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TRAVIS – Was that really the best way to pick a new party leader?

Andrew Wilkinson speaking in Legislature when he was Minister of Advanced Education. (QP video screenshot)

WHEN A POLITICAL party sets rules for a leadership race and tries to be all things to all members, the result can end up looking more like the proverbial camel designed by a committee than a true and fair method for members to choose a new leader.

As it did in 2011, the B.C. Liberal Party chose to continue its practice of favouring ridings over members. Under the rules, each of B.C.’s 87 ridings was worth the same 100 points. The winner needed to amass 4,351 points out of a possible 8,700.

In giving equal weight to the ridings over its members, the Liberals created a false equivalency that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. A riding’s relative strength within the party mattered naught.

A riding with 218 Liberal members had the same 100 points as a riding that had 1,457 members. The turnout in each riding also had no impact on the points.

The 91 members who voted in Peace River South were worth the same 100 points as the 1,241 who voted in Surrey-Panorama.

In the 23 ridings with a turnout of fewer than 200 members, 3,416 members voted. With 2,300 points at stake, these ridings represented more than half of the points needed to win.

However, the five ridings where more than 900 cast a ballot — a total of 5,159 members — counted for just 500 points.

While it’s highly improbable, theoretically, 8,603 members in the 44 ridings with the lowest turnout could have chosen the new leader had they all voted for the same candidate.

Going into its three-day vote, the Liberals claimed 60,000 members. They didn’t all vote, and the ones who did didn’t stick around for long.

On the first count, the six competitors shared 30,775 votes between them. Despite the “stay in the comfort of your own home and vote” nature of the ballot, only 23,270 members voted in the fifth and final count.

Andrew Wilkinson won 53.8 per cent of the points on that count, but not a majority of the vote when the total number of members who voted are considered. His 12,509 votes on the final ballot represented the support of just 40.6 per cent of those who voted.

Instant members can be a lot like instant soup, they do the job but not much else.

There were a few other surprises in the count, as well.

Sam Sullivan placed fourth in his own riding of Vancouver-False Creek on the first ballot, but even more surprising, Wilkinson came second in his riding of Vancouver-Quilchena behind Michael Lee.

Rich Coleman’s endorsement of Mike de Jong didn’t help much in Coleman’s riding of Langley East, where de Jong placed a distant second to former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts.

Lee bested Watts in six of the nine Surrey ridings on the first ballot, while Wilkinson took five of the nine on the final ballot.

Todd Stone illustrated another problem with the process: buyer’s remorse.

When news broke in the midst of the voting that the party had found irregularities with 1,349 members the Stone campaign had signed up, one member took to social media, posting: “I have asked three sitting MLAs and the returning officer via email how to rescind my vote and redo. I have yet to hear back.”

And that’s one of the big drawbacks to the vote from the comfort of your own home all at one time for each and every ballot: There’s no opportunity to consider a different mix of candidates than conventional wisdom might have settled on.

Six went into the vote, three were left for the final two rounds. Perhaps, for some, the three candidates left standing were a different three than they had envisioned when they voted.

Would some members have marked their ballots differently had they seen who the final three were? Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

Since most political parties now have some form of a ranked ballot and vote-from-home process, perhaps a two-ballot vote should be considered over two days.

Members eliminate some candidates on Day 1 — but not all — and then have a final vote on the candidates left standing the next day.

Something for the Liberals and other parties to chew on.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. info@integritybc.ca

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About Mel Rothenburger (6108 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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