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Open ElectionsTerm Paper

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Canadian Government: Party and Politics

An increasing number of citizens of the major western democracies have become disenchanted with the electoral process: they believe that it does not represent them or their interests. Canada is no different and one attempt to deal with the challenges posed by the public's sense of political disenfranchisement has been to offer 'open' nominations, i.e., allowing anyone to be nominated and to run in a primary for a party, regardless of their background or being backed by the party leadership. This theoretically will allow people who are not supported by political cronyism to get the nomination and has been presented as a way to take the parties and the electoral process back to the people. However, in reality, this has not been how the open nominations process has functioned and instead it has resulted in-fighting between party members and accusations of failure, even of corruption. Although there is clearly a need for greater transparency and more accountability in government, the disputes which the open nominations process have generated suggest that they have generated more cynicism about government in Canada, not greater confidence in the electoral process. This paper will specifically focus on the problems of the Liberal Party of Canada in incorporating open nominations into its procedures and worldview, given the significance of open nominations into its political platform (Googling 'open nominations' results in links to the Liberal Party amongst a list of first search results) although it will also demonstrate that open nominations are problematic, regardless of the party that uses them.

The Liberal Party of Canada proudly advertises its 'open nomination' procedures as one of the Party's main attractions and selling points to the public. It notes on the front page of its website: "Our Leader Justin Trudeau is committed to open nominations in all 338 ridings from coast to coast, and we are very excited to share the new National Rules for the Selection of Candidates for the Liberal Party of Canada, which is the first step in this process. If you are interested in running -- thank you for joining the team! By making this commitment, you are leading the charge for positive change."[footnoteRef:1] The website even provides FAQs to prospective candidates, underlining how easy it is to run for office as a possible Liberal candidate. The ability to run for the Liberal Party is advertised as a selling point, just as much as any of the party's positions. [1: "Open nominations," Liberal Party, http://www.liberal.ca/open-nominations / [accessed 10 Apr 2015]]

The Liberal Party has traditionally presented itself on the ideological spectrum as between the Conservative Party on the right and the NDP on the left. It has often been accused of trying to be 'all things to all people' but that has been successful in attempting to gain support over the years as it has been skillfully been able to position itself in a manner that is advantageous, depending on the current whims of the Canadian electorate. "The party's success has reflected its ability to occupy the political centre, while showing ideological suppleness. This flexibility has allowed it to argue for increased government spending in one era and balanced budgets in the next, to support free trade in some periods and vigorously condemn it in others. In the late decades of the 20th Century, its emphasis on tolerance appealed to immigrants and urban voters, and allowed the party to portray its opponents in English Canada as small-minded."[footnoteRef:2] Thus Liberal Party has styled itself both as pragmatic and as a party 'of the people.' This may be why open nominations has been a particular 'selling point' for the liberals, since it would seem to cohere with both ideological orientations. The Liberal Party has lost support in recent years and open nominations were thought to be a way to counteract this falling-off. [2: "Liberal Party," The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/liberal-party / [accessed 10 Apr 2015]]

But while in theory, when there are open nominations everyone should be able to run for office who is a member of the Liberal Party, not just political cronies, in actual practice it has seldom functioned that way in reality. The stated intention of the open nominations approach was "to reinvigorate the Liberal party by reaching out to a greater pool of candidates and pruning deadwood from the ranks. But there were problems from the beginning -- allegations that Trudeau loyalists and 'star' candidates were getting preferential treatment in terms of information and the setting of nomination dates, or were simply seeing their rivals declared ineligible to run."[footnoteRef:3] The supposed open nominations policy of Liberals has been called farcical by the opposition both on the left and the right. Even the popular politician Justin Trudeau has been criticized: "several examples of botched nomination races -- in which team Trudeau has turned a blind eye or actively changed the rules of the game to favour a particular candidate -- have left many in the party disillusioned and disgruntled."[footnoteRef:4] Trudeau has been accused of violating the Liberal Party's official open nomination process to get more electable candidates onto the general election ballot. [3: Tasha Kheiriddin, "Trudeau's 'open' nominations are blowing up in his face," iPolitics, 11 Dec 2014, http://www.ipolitics.ca/2014/12/11/trudeaus-open-nominations-are-blowing-up-in-his-face / [accessed 10 Apr 2015]] [4: Althea Raj, "Justin Trudeau's Open Nominations Vow Called a 'Farce.'" The Huffington Post. 18 Aug 2014 http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/08/18/justin-trudeau-open-nominations-pledge_n_5687753.html [accessed 10 Apr 2015]]

For example, Former Canadian Forces general Andrew Leslie is the official candidate in Ottawa-Orleans. However, when a rally in support of his candidacy was organized, "the event turned into a political embarrassment for Leslie when his only rival, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi, showed up with some angry supporters to complain that the party had acted undemocratically last month in disqualifying him from seeking the nomination."[footnoteRef:5] Bertschi claimed that he had been usurped by a technicality so as to ensure that the hand-picked favorite by the Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau would gain ascendency. Party leaders accused him of failing to pay down debts he had accrued in a previous electoral bid and there was also a question about his failure to inform the nomination committee about a defamation lawsuit he had waged against a gossip website that had printed unflattering articles about him.[footnoteRef:6] [5: Mark Kennedy, "Police intervene after fight breaks out at meeting to nominate Andrew Leslie as liberal candidate in Ottawa-Orleans," The National Post, 7 Dec 2014, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/police-break-up-noisy-scuffle-at-meeting-to-nominate-andrew-leslie-as-liberal-candidate-in-ottawa-orleans [accessed 10 Apr 2015]] [6: Kennedy 2014]

Leslie tried to put a positive spin about the attempt of his excluded would-be rival to 'crash' his electoral celebration. "Today, we are a team, we are a family. Yes, there has been some tensions in the family. This is natural. It's actually healthy. It shows that there is passion, there is fire."[footnoteRef:7] However, it is difficult to see the anger directed against Bertschi as such; the reasons for the anger against the official candidate were not to designed simulate productive discourse within the Party but merely were the result of anger at what was seen as an excessively bureaucratic and unfair nominations process. Rather than garnering positive support for the Liberal Party as intended, this is one of many examples of how the open nominations process has merely created divisiveness. And such disputes have not been limited to a single area of Canada but rather have been rife throughout. Another example of this divisiveness can be seen in Vancouver South, where the party's cherry-picked candidate, Harjit Singh Sajjan, won despite the strong support for a local businessman, Barj Dhahan. There were claims that the "Liberal Party, especially Justin, is in bed with extremist and fundamental groups" by Dhahan's supporters, many of whom vowed to rip up their membership cards.[footnoteRef:8] [7: Kennedy 2014] [8: Terry Milewski, "B.C. Sikhs quit Liberals to protest Justin Trudeau's 'star' candidate," 9 Apr 2014, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/b-c-sikhs-quit-liberals-to-protest-justin-trudeau-s-star-candidate-1.2866343 [accessed 10 Apr 2015]]

According to one recent editorial by Tasha Kheiriddin on the open nomination process, while the party's leader "Trudeau recently told a group of Liberal candidates that 'Open nominations in our communities have allowed tens of thousands of Canadians to participate directly in contested nominations.' Unfortunately, many are also not sticking around -- disillusioned by a process that they see as rigged and leader-driven." Regardless of one's positions on the specific issues raised by the conflict between the supporters of Leslie vs. Bertschi and Dhahan vs. Sajjan, it seems clear that rather than being a rallying point for party loyalists and a way to attract the ambivalent and disaffiliated back to the party, the use of open nominations has simply provoked divisiveness and discontent. Perhaps most importantly from the Liberal Party's perspective, it has turned the focus away from the issues to the nominating process itself. Instead of supporting the Party, people are beginning to see themselves as supporting candidates, versus the Party's position on specific issues. For a centrist party, fragmentation is a particularly risky strategy.

Also, given the rather fuzzy and unfocused identity of the Liberal Party in recent years, this seems particularly… [END OF PREVIEW]

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