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Have your voice heard in democracy

Posted on July 25, 2019 by Vauxhall Advance

Would you rather “fight city hall” or join it?

All you need to do is collect some signatures, and you could be a candidate in our next civic election.

To run for provincial or federal office, however, it’s far more difficult.

For any real chance of success, you have to pick a political party. That means you have to play by their rules.

But those rules – by bylaws or tradition – appear to be different from one party to the next. Sometimes they seem to be aimed at keeping those who have been elected, in power …and everyone else, out.

Just how undemocratic they remain, despite talk of electoral reform, has been documented in a new study.

The Ontario-based Samara Centre for Democracy reports that during the last four federal elections – 2003 to 2015 – just 17 per cent of the candidates were actually elected by local people through a competitive process.

By contrast, more than 40 per cent of the 6,600-plus candidates were simply appointed by political party brass – with little or no local participation.

In some cases, party bosses wouldn’t allow any grassroots evaluation of their incumbent Members of Parliament – no one else was allowed to seek the nomination.

In others, party officials decided privately who they wanted to run, then urged party loyalists to rally around their choice.

To ensure no competitors would turn up, they’d keep quiet about their plans for a nomination meeting. Or they’d announce it just days before the party’s membership renewal date cut-off, all but ruling out any challengers.

For 253 of those nomination races, the Samara report found, the nomination process opened and closed on the same day. A party insider could readily “win” after getting a tip from higher up.

What’s more, a Canadian party leader can cancel a nomination for any reason – such as preferring a high-profile “parachute candidate.” Is that democratic?

Or what if there’s been a controversy? This year, many voters are watching to see how Prime Minister Trudeau responds to the nominations of any prominent Liberal dissidents running for re-election.

And while the Samara study focused on federal politics, it’s obvious the same inequities can be seen at the provincial level, right across Canada. In Alberta, we remember how many “instant Tories” were recruited to vote for Allison Redford at the last moment.

We can ask how many cabinet members – regardless of party – have had to face challengers in their home constituency?

Our electoral system – like an aging automobile – has many parts to fix. Finding a better alternative to “first past the post” is just one of those needed repairs.

But this one may be easier to remedy. Canadians with a membership (or just a preference) for any party can get active at the local level and push for change. Sooner or later, the party big-wigs will have to pay attention.

With a federal election on the horizon, now is an obvious time to get involved.

Volunteers play many key roles in a campaign, and they’ll have many opportunities to make their voices heard.

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