Roundup: A cynical membership ploy

Oh, Alberta politics. For the place where I first got cut my political chops, you continue to fill me with such…outrage, particularly with how you’ve so bastardized the way in which leadership contests are supposed to run. The former Progressive Conservative party was a good example of how our system could be so debased as to turn those leadership contests into quasi-primaries that they became a direct election of the premier through instant party memberships, and usually block votes to groups such as teachers, for whom leaders like Alison Redford became indebted to. This time, it’s the antics of the upstart Alberta Party that has me fuming.

For those of you who don’t know, the Alberta Party is a centrist party of mostly hipsters and academics that aims to try and find the sweet spot of the province’s political pulse, while also not being associated with the heretofore tainted Liberal brand. (Disclosure: I was friends with one of the leadership hopefuls in the previous contest, and am friends with a previous candidate for the party in the last election; both, incidentally, are academics). And with the demise of the amorphous PC brand and its quasi-centrism in favour of Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party and its decidedly more right-leaning brand, there is optimism within the Alberta Party that hey, maybe they can attract some of the former PC types fleeting for greener pastures. And so with that in mind, the current leader (and up until a week ago, holder of their only seat in the legislature, until an NDP defector joined the ranks) decided he was going to resign.

But – and here’s the catch – he just might run for the position again. And admitted yesterday that his resignation is a ploy to drive party memberships. And this is the part that makes me crazy, because it reinforces this sick notion that has infected our body politic that the only real reason that the grassroots membership exists any longer is for the purpose of leadership contests. And while sure, that’s important, it continues do drive this growing push that makes these contests into quasi-presidential primaries that centralises power in the leader’s office because the selection (and subsequent ability to remove said leader) rests outside of the caucus – though I will grant you that for Greg Clark, that was a caucus of one until just now.

And I get that at this point, the Alberta Party is one that isn’t as centrally-driven as other parties, and where there is trust in candidates about policy matters that they’re not just parroting talking points (so says my friend who ran for them), and that’s great. But it’s also indicative of a party without seats (which they had none until the last election), and without a taste of power. But it nevertheless follows the pattern that memberships – which Clark is trying to drive – is all about the leadership, and not about the nominations, or the grassroots policy development, or being the interlocutor between civic life and the legislature. And if they do manage to attract a bunch of former PCers, that could be either great for them, or their own demise as that party’s former culture takes over the party (which isn’t necessarily a great thing). It’s a risky move that Clark made, and it may present a change for the political landscape…or it becomes one more cynical exercise in bastardizing the meaning of grassroots party memberships. I guess we’ll have to see.

Good reads:

  • At the ASEAN meeting in Manila, Filipino and Canadian activists wanted Trudeau to speak out about human rights abuses there; Trudeau raised it in a side meeting.
  • Trudeau was also dealing with protests from Filipinos who want Canada to take back barges full of trash that were brought over under the guise of recyclables.
  • Bob Rae talks about his trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh to assess the plight of the Rohingya, and his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • As the UN peacekeeping conference gets underway in Vancouver, our commitment is still a “work in progress” with promises of equipment and training.
  • From the climate conference in Bonn, Catherine McKenna is touting a coal phase-out while the Americans continue to try to promote its use.
  • Meanwhile, global carbon emissions are about to reach an all-time high, which means a shorter timeline to reduce them before reaching 2 degrees of warming.
  • After all of the drama around the TPP-11 singing /snub/misunderstanding, here is a reasonable account of what happened and the dynamics with Mexico in play.
  • About $2.14 billion in infrastructure money is being held over to next year, likely because provinces and municipalities haven’t yet submitted invoices.
  • Indigenous (and other) senators express doubts in the government after the Senate passed Bill S-3 with compromise amendments and a vague promise to consult.
  • As the government rolls out new training courses on how to use the Phoenix pay system, they are being deemed “essential” but not mandatory.
  • Here is an update on the committee changes in the Senate, and in particular the ISG taking over the chair of Internal Economy.
  • The Toronto Star has a lengthy profile of Bill Morneau, and includes his apparent nickname of “Bruce Wayne.”
  • Maclean’s crunches some numbers, and finds that Trudeau’s cabinet has a higher proportion of seniors than previous ones, despite its youthful veneer.
  • Andrew Coyne tries to make sense of just what happened with Trudeau and that TPP-11 signing that wasn’t.
  • Stephen Gordon writes about the importance of economic self-reflection, and why the “staples thesis” of resource revenues wound up being wrong.
  • My weekend column looked at the mendacious framing devices the Conservatives employ, and how it detracts from the exercise of accountability.