Thursday, April 24, 2014


I do not have a dog in the Conservative Leadership Race (Debacle) The outcome will have very little impact on my daily life. However, as a student of politics and organizational behavior, I am fascinated by the organizational, political and communication mess this process has created for the governing party.

My intention is to provide some insight and discussion on process and outcomes with a view towards debunking some of the popular myths and truisms about an unfair process leveled by former Leadership candidate Bill Barry.

Today, I want to tackle the issue of what a delegated leadership race is. My intention is to provide some insight and discussion on process and outcomes.

In its simplest form,  grassroots members of a political party select/endorse/reject candidates vivifying for the job of leader. The process used by the Tories is not very unique. The rules are all spelled out in the party's constitution and by a rules committee. They are the same for everyone.

I have participated in many similar processes at the national, local and candidate level over the last thirty years. In fact, All of our Prime Ministers and nearly all of our Premiers were selected through similar processes.

There are two types of delegates (voters) that get to vote for the leader; elected delegates and non-elected ex-officio delegates. 

The ex-officio delegates comprise of folks that are former candidates, elected M.H.As, executive and committee members. These folks have automatic votes. They do not have to seek election to become delegates. Many of these delegates are considered as "Old Guard". They are a core group of volunteers and party organizers that have proven their loyalty to the cause by getting elected or serving on executives over the decades.

The percentage of ex-officio delegates in any given process has become the Achilles heel of direct democracy advocates who feel these delegates are not accountable.

The second group, who should comprise the vast majority of any leadership convention are the delegates elected at the district level. These are the wildcards, the grassroots members who vi for the right to represent their association at the leadership convention.

This is the battleground where the various candidates for leaders, and their machines, campaign for the hearts, minds and votes of the average party member. It can be cannibalistic and savage. The outcome of each of these 48 delegate selection meetings is a slate of individuals that will have a direct say in who the next leader will be.

The candidates must hustle and whip-up their support. Each selection meeting is a mini-leadership convention, a means to an end. No candidate can afford to loose potential delegate support. Every one of those convention delegate spots are worth their weight in gold. 

Like on election day, each campaign will have a get out the vote machine. Each campaign will  have influential local tories endorsing them. These supporters will cajole, request and assist voters to the site of the selection vote. 

Sometimes there are speeches by the candidates that are vying for your support. However, by now voters will have received literature, an email or even a phone call from the various camps. It has been my experience that the vast majority will have their minds made up before the enter the all. Sometimes they will support a few people they know, other times they will vote for a slate of people that are running together as a block. 

You reap what you sow. A candidates success of failure will depend on their popularity, their ability to get voters out and for a select few, rewards offered or a candidades proposed policies. 

Getting voters out is key. A candidates popularity often correlates with good voter turnout. Even popular candidates have to push hard to ensure complacency does not rob them of delegates. Endorsements, enticements (a party afterwards with lots of eats and drinks) and reminders of favours from the past are all tools used by campaigns to win over those votes.

The best organized and efficient team wins. There are not delegates awarded for most congenial, or most loved, or moist likely to revive. There is only winner takes all. 

It is emotional, competitive and stressful. It is a zero sum game, there are clear winners and there are clear losers. It is not a process for the naive, sooky or the weak of heart. There are always hurt feelings and often allegations of wrongdoing by the loosing side.

Other parties, most notably the Liberal Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, have adopted a process where members and supporters by-pass the delegate selection process and vote directly for the leader.  

The scramble to register voters and persuade them to vote is just as intense. Campaigns still depend on endorsements, literature, phone calls and candidate meetings to round-up support.

It is still a zero-sum game decided via a very intensely competitive process where organization and popularity decide the day.

If people are not buying what you are selling, do not have a get out the vote machine or believe an inspired speech at a delegate selection meeting than you are going to lose. That loss reflects one's ill-preparedness, unpopularity or lack of  political savvy, not that the fix is in.

At the end of the process, leaders are chosen.

Remember, many are called but few are chosen.

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