Last week, for the second time in the current Conservative Party leadership race, an elite group of establishment conservatives used the Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC for short) to deny rank and file members of the party the right to vote for or against a candidate of their choice.
LEOC is an ad hoc committee appointed by the party’s governing National Council to organize the leadership election process, hence its name: “organizing" committee.
What does “organizing” entail?
Determining when the vote will be held; setting dates for debates; booking venues; administering the party’s membership list; establishing procedures for membership and donation submissions by competing campaigns – these are just some of the responsibilities that LEOC must fulfill in order to ensure a smooth and fair election.
Not all of these tasks are identified in the party’s constitution from which the committee derives its mandate, but that shouldn’t matter. Unable to anticipate every possible contingency, the constitution quite sensibly authorizes LEOC to establish and enforce rules and procedures it deems necessary to fulfill that mandate.
Unfortunately, some committee members – once appointed – have decided to treat this discretionary power as a green light to transform the group from an organizing committee (as envisioned by the party’s constitution) to a selection board responsible for screening prospective candidates and certifying only those it approves.
In barring Richard Decarie from running, and now disqualifying Jim Karahalios, LEOC has made a mockery of our party’s leadership election process and democratic credentials. It’s worth noting that neither Decarie nor Karahalios were accused of violating any rules. Instead, they were blocked because members of LEOC didn’t agree with specific elements of their platform, or didn’t approve of the direction the party might have moved under their leadership, or just didn’t like either candidate or their style.
Anyone can see how easily such powers can be abused. With them, members of LEOC can determine the outcome of elections by simply refusing to certify prospective candidates, as was the case with Decarie, while approved candidates can eliminate their competition by simply lobbying LEOC members to disqualify troublesome rivals, as was the case with Karahalios. Either way, LEOC’s behavior all but guarantees that the legitimacy of the vote will be questioned by a significant number of members.
It is inconceivable that this was how LEOC was intended to operate when party members ratified the constitution in 2005. I certainly didn’t vote to grant an obscure organizing committee such far reaching powers, nor did anyone else I know who took part in the party’s founding convention.
So what’s to be done?
There are those who say that principled conservatives should quit the CPC and join a new or existing fringe party that more closely comports to their values. I disagree. Principled conservatives don’t need to abandon their party – they need to take it back from the pandering dandies who appear to be more interested in acquiring and exercising personal power and prestige than they are advancing common-sense conservative policies and ideas.
The opportunity to do so could not be better.
Instead of throwing their hands up in frustration, principled conservatives should re-double their effort to raise money and sell memberships in support of those genuinely conservative candidates who remain in the race.
Even after the membership deadline to be able to vote in this leadership election, principled conservatives should not relax their efforts to renew memberships and recruit new members. The CPC convention this November in Quebec City will feature important policy decisions as well as National Council Elections. It is critical that principled conservatives send as many delegates to this meeting as possible to elect national councilors who will ensure free and fair nominations as we move toward a possible early general election.
Finally, by joining the party or renewing their memberships, principled conservatives will be able to support an amendment to the party’s constitution explicitly limiting the role of LEOC to its intended organizing function.
Our party was founded on the democratic principle that there is wisdom in the counsel of many.
It’s time to reassert that principle by taking our party back.