Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Calgary West - the Aftermath

Well, Nation - the Calgary West CPC EDA AGM (how many acronyms can you fit into one event?) has come and gone... and brought with it the most hits to the corner of the blogosphere since the last Federal election (big props to the Bloggers who linked to my live-ish blogging of the event, in particular to Scott Tribe and Pierre Trudeau Is My Homeboy).

The question becomes: What now?

The Board of Directors for the Calgary-West EDA is a representative body elected by the membership of the Conservative Party of Canada in that riding. They are elected to represent the views of the local membership in their dealings with the National Party.

The Conservative Party of Canada nominee in Calgary West for the 41st General Election is, at this point, Rob Anders. He was acclaimed to this position, in accordance with a judgement by the Party. His role, as the candidate, is to represent the Conservative Party of Canada in the riding to the public-at-large, to seek election under the abnner of the Party, and to sit in the Party Caucus if elected. In this role, he answers to the Party directly, and to the Party's local membership, who can (in theory) dismiss him and choose another candidate under the rules set forth by the Party.

Anders also currently serves in another, separate role, as the elected Member of Parliament for the riding of Calgary-West. In this role, he is answerable to the voters of Calgary-West, who overwhelmingly (over 57%, in a field of 6) marked their "x's" next to his name, for whatever reasons they deemed important, in October of 2008.

Now, here's where it gets tricky...

No matter WHAT the Party does or doesn't do, on a local level or at Party Headquarters, Rob Anders will remain the Member of Parliament for Calgary West until the writ is issued for the 41st General Election. The Party could dump him , or the local membership could elect a new candidate TOMORROW, and Anders would still be the M.P. for Calgary West.

So... stories of Rob Anders' impending retirement are greatly exaggerated.

That said, though, undeniably there was some sentiment this past Saturday among the members of the CPC who live in Calgary West that Anders should face a challenge for the party's nomination. The membership, after all, elected a slate of candidates for the Board of Directors that were all on-the-record as being in favour of a nomination contest.

The Board candidates were all in favour of a NOMINATION CONTEST - NOT in favour, necessarily, of Dumping Rob Anders. While some of them - possibly MOST of them - likely prefer Donna Kennedy-Glans as a candidate over Anders, the truth is that the Board itself has little say in that decision. Ultimately, the decision as to who the candidate is lies with the party membership as a whole in Calgary West, and then with the National Party, who needs to decide whether to sign off on the locally chosen candidate.

The smoke has cleared as to the Next Step in the process, and it seems that what happens now is as follows: The Party will mail out a questionnaire to all registered Party members in Calgary West, asking them if they'd like to see a nomination race. If 66% of the party members (not 66% of respondents, but 66% of the total number of members on the roll) return the questionnaire indicating that they would, in fact, prefer a nomination race, then one will be held - with the newly-elected Board running the show (under the VERY watchful eye, no doubt, of the national Party brass - this riding has been more than enough of a headache for them already).

Now, we have every reason to believe, or at least little reason to doubt, that if a nomination vote were held tomorrow, Rob Anders would likely win it. There has been much conjecture - including some by yours truly - that the riding's voters don't WANT to vote for Rob Anders, but their desire to vote Conservative outweighs their distaste at voting for the party's candidate. It's important to remember, though, that suppositions like that are purely speculative: There's little evidence to support the idea that the majority of Calgary West Tories would dump Anders if given the chance. The little evidence that there IS, however, was bolstered by this past Saturday's AGM results.

It bears repeating that those in favour of a new board, those ON the new board, or even those who vote in favour of a nomination race, are not NECESSARILY anti-Anders. I agree that the likelihood is high, given that the man himself has made it pretty clear he'd rather not run a nomination contest. However, it's possible that there are a great many "true blue" Anders supporters (a description that makes one snicker, when one recalls that Anders, as a Reformer, was a "green" candidate before Green became synonymous with political cluelessness) that simply wish to see their man win a democratic nomination contest because, well, that's one of the basic founding tenets of the Reform movement: political accountability. You wouldn't see St. Preston or Queen Deb dodge a nomination race - they'd yell "BRING IT ON!". And that's what they want from Rob - even though they'd support him in the race itself.

Now, what makes dumping Anders as the Party candidate easier? The fact that the people who have lawful access to the local membership list, the minty-fresh Board of Directors for the Calgary West EDA, are in favour of the nomination vote going forward. Which makes the direct-mail smears of Anders' opponents leading up to the AGM much less likely in the case of a vote to hold a nomination (I believe all the candidates would get access to the member's list during a nomination race, so Ezra could rant to his heart's content during the race itself).

What COMPLICATES a dumping of Anders, though, is the fact that if a nomination race IS in fact to be held, it will be an OPEN nomination race - meaning anyone can jump in. There is already talk of another progressive conservative who might jump into the fray - which runs the real risk of splitting the progressive or "Anti-Rob" vote, and having Anders win in a 3 (or more) horse race. That's democracy, though. You live by the sword, and you die by it.

So where does the Board of Directors for Calgary West go from here?

Well, their current path is clear. They are elected, by the party membership in Calgary West, to represent them to the National Party. By virtue of their stated goals ahead of the AGM, they can make the case that the membership would like a chance to vote on whether or not a nomination race is to be held. The ballots will be mailed out, and then it's direct democracy in action - either there will be a nomination race to oversee, or there won't be.

In the meantime, though, this board has to work with Anders, the last person to be chosen by a majority of party members as the party's nominee. It's worth mentioning again that many of the new Board members probably voted for Anders in October in the General Election, and some would probably vote for him in a nomination race, were one to be held. They're not united by a desire to oust him, only by a desire to see him defend his status as the Party nominee in a democratic contest. But, in the interim, the business of the party needs to be done. The board and the nominee have to ensure election readiness, so that if the government falls tomorrow, they're ready to go to bat and to support their party's nominee in the riding - Rob Anders - in the 41st General Election. The board and the nominee have to ensure that they're planting the seeds for electoral victory in the riding. Where the candidate is hurting the cause, the board will have to point this out. Where the board is incorrect in their analysis, Anders (who has been elected enough times to know a thing or 2, at least) will have to set them straight.

And where they disagree?

Well... that's the thing...

If they disagree, what's the resolution apparatus? Do they poll the local membership, which selects both the Board and the nominee, and let them decide every issue of contention? Do they go to the party, and ask the Party to choose between alienating a nominee (and representative of a large portion of their core supporters, nation-wide) or alienating the duly-elected board of a local EDA, thus ticking off their ORIGINAL core of electoral Reformers and making the rest of the nation uneasy at their disregard for grassroots democracy in favour of a loose cannon M.P. whose very presence on the party's back-benches costs them thousands of votes across the country from moderate, former PC's?

The new Calgary West CPC EDA Board of Directors is making all the right noises about working with the nominee. I've yet to hear the same from the nominee, but I suspect we probably will.

When they CAN'T work together, though - who, exactly, is going to want to referee?


calgary rants said...

Great Post... If I recall, there was a deadline to purchase memberships before the AGM ( and thus likely affecting the ability to be part of the 2/3 majority) so would this restrict any challenge? is going to be interesting...

Another source said...

Your post is a very eloquent and accurate depiction of how EDAs are supposed to run. However, if you don't mind my saying so, you're being more than a bit naive about how riding-level politics works.

The Board candidates were all in favour of a NOMINATION CONTEST - NOT in favour, necessarily, of Dumping Rob Anders.

But in practice, we know perfectly well that's EXACTLY why they were there.

The only reason EDA takeovers like this happen is so one side can gain an advantage over their opponents, either to win a local nomination race, or as part of a wider strategy. (When all those Liberal EDAs were being replaced back in 2001-02, do you think it was because Paul Martin's supporters were enthusiastic about bringing "accountable and transparent" governance to their ridings?)

But, in the interim, the business of the party needs to be done. The board and the nominee have to ensure election readiness, so that if the government falls tomorrow, they're ready to go to bat and to support their party's nominee in the riding - Rob Anders - in the 41st General Election.

That's what they're *supposed* to do, but by no means do they *have* to do it.

Maybe they only care about winning the nomination for Donna Kennedy-Glans and if that doesn't work out, they'll just walk away.

Maybe if they don't win the nomination, they'll deliberately try to sabotage the Conservatives' chances. (Perhaps by releasing damaging claims about Anders in the middle of an election)

Maybe they're allied with someone else in the party, who is working a different angle (like Paul Martin 2002)

Or, maybe they really are all about grassroots democracy, transparency and accountability.

We shall see.

Seener Beaner said...

Holy cow!!! What a very detailed posting. 66% of all party members in Calgary West? Interesting number. There is no way everyone will get active enough to respond to that. Not 66%.

I'm not a Conservative party member. Obviously I would love to see Rob go.

One Alberta Voter said...

Thanks for your detailed and careful analysis of the situation, ES. While I recognize Another Source's point about the distinction between legalities and political realities, there has been so much past litigation surrounding Rotten Rob's nominations that it is a sure thing that the party will want to see that this process, however it unfolds, is technically squeaky-clean. That is really going to constrain both sides of the issue in terms of possible shenanigans.

This situation really highlights the heavy burden which the national party organization has put on challengers to incumbents. Getting a 66% RESPONSE RATE is a major accomplishment in most open processes, much less getting that proportion on one side of an issue. I wish the challengers the best of luck. They might want to stay organized to challenge for election to the party's national board if rules like this are going to set the stage in constituencies.