"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Membership has its priveleges

The ever-nefarious Geoff Meeker digs a little deeper into the case of Bag-On-The-Head, putative candidate for the leadership of The Party, whose concerns made it into rotation on radio news the other day.

This prompts the ever-intrepid Peter Jackson to chime in with a comment:
Geoff: Your post is quite balanced. There are two issues here. One is that the Tories have made it nigh on impossible for anyone to contend Dunderdale's coronation. The timeframe is too short and the fee and signature requirements are almost insurmountable. This is fact.
And another:
… said constitution clearly states the requjrement of 50 signatures from party members, something you also questioned. If they didn't restrict endorsements to party members, it would leave room for saboteurs to muck things up.
And what is that “signature requirement”? A lot of digging on this corner's part dredged up the signature requirement as it stood when late Premier Williams “ran” for the job in 2000-01, which prompted a very helpful mole — let's call them Mole — to provide what is apparently the most recent iteration of that illustrious document, the Constitution of The Party. Lo and behold, the requirement is the same now as it was then, to wit:
C. The candidate must file with the Chief Electoral Officer a nomination form containing the signatures of fifty individuals who are members of the Party on or before the date of close of nomination established by the Convention Committee.
Which of course raises the important follow-up question: which individuals are "members of the Party"? That arcane piece of knowledge was difficult to determine until Mole helpfully provided the answer, which is contained in Article 5 of the Constitution of The Party:
1. All persons who are residents or domiciled in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and who support the principles and aims of the Party are eligible to become members of the Party.

2. Subjects to Article 5-1 all individual members of affiliated associations and groups who support the principles and aims of the Party shall be members of the Party.

3. Notwithstanding Article 5-1 and Article 5-2, all members of the Provincial Executive Council as defined in Article 7-1 who support the principles and aims of the Party shall be members of the Party. Any member of the Provincial Executive Council who ceases to support the principles and aims of the Party will automatically cease to be a member of the Provincial Executive Council and forfeit all rights and privileges associated therewith.
The “affiliated associations and groups” mentioned are district associations, the PC Women's Association, and the like. The “persons” who are eligible to be members, as per the Constitutions definition section, are Canadian citizens. Curiously, there does not seem to be a lower limit on “membership” in The Party in and of itself, although other provisions provide that you must be 16 to do things like attend, vote in, or stand for election in district association elections (Article 13) and leadership delegate selections (Appendix A, Part II, section 2). The Constitution also provides that members must also be 18 to vote in (Article 12, section 3, para. 6) and (obviously, for statutory reasons) to run in candidate-selection meetings.

Note a couple of important absences from the membership rules. There is nothing about membership fees or cards or other such formalities. Article 5, distilled and cross-referenced to other sections of the Constitution, says that you are a Progressive Conservative if you are a Canadian citizen, “resident or domiciled”, whatever the difference there is intended to be, and you say you're a Tory.

And that, presumably subject to the age limit in Article 12, is exactly how the PC Party has conducted its late candidate nominations. As Danny Williams and John Babb reminded voters in the 2008 by-election districts:
Voting will be held in the District of Baie Verte - Springdale on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in three locations... Voters must be residents of the district and are reminded to bring two pieces of identification, one of which should be a piece of photo identification.
Similar language obtained in notices to voters in the 2009 by-elections in Straits and White-Bay North and Terra Nova, and the 2010 contests in Topsail and Conception Bay East-Bell Island.

Note, importantly, the reference to “Voters”. Not “Members of the PC Party”, whatever the M-word is supposed to mean in this context. Indeed, as The Party officials, and the nomination contestants themselves, have repeatedly boasted on gabby radio during the brief nomination campaigns, The Party is an “open” party, eschewing membership formalities and fees altogether in the name of democracy blah blah blah.

Yes, it might be hard to prove that you are a “member”, but it's equally hard for anyone else to prove that you aren't.

So with all that, with an open party that has no membership requirement other than to tell yourself you're a Tory, and with no apparent limit on the age of “members” who can nominate The Party's The Leader... how can it be said that the requirement to get the signaturs of fifty “members” is an “insurmountable” one, and designed to disallow the room for “saboteurs to muck things up”?

So, Mr/Mrs/Ms Bag-on-the-Head, and saboteurs, have at 'er. All you need to do now is find fifty self-styled Tories (children will do) and $5000 measly bucks.

Go nuts!

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At 9:08 AM, January 07, 2011 , Blogger Peter said...

Thank you, Wally, for pointing out the fogginess of party membership. In the distant past, I seem to recall people had to actually carry a card, in the literal sense, to be a member. But even then, it was no more difficult than acquiring a square of toilet paper.
When I said getting the fee and signatures was "insurmountable," I meant it was so in the context of the time period. The time period, to me, is the obstacle. As you've pointed out, the membership issue is moot, something Mr. Bondpapers refuses to let go of.
As for sabotage, I guess lax membership rules do little to prevent it. But they at least deter it.

At 9:58 AM, January 07, 2011 , Blogger Mark said...

Peter - I don't think the Tories have had "membership" for quite a while. I know the provincial Liberals abandoned the practice several years ago. But your toilet paper analogy is bang on.

It's only every so many years that there's any reason for the media to shine any light on these practices - please keep it up (on all of the parties...)

At 12:09 PM, January 07, 2011 , Blogger Ursula said...

@Peter :

" I seem to recall people had to actually carry a card, in the literal sense, to be a member. But even then, it was no more difficult than acquiring a square of toilet paper".

I have to thank then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for getting me interested in politics .

I was living in British Columbia, meandering through a park on a Saturday morning ,when a man with the biggest jawline I have ever seen , grabbed my arm to shake my hand . Never have liked the fellow , I digress , but, it did get me interested in politics .

When I moved back home I tried unsuccessfully to become a card-carrying member of a certain party . I went online , the site was down , I called and was told that someone would get back to me , I am still waiting , honestly .

We really do have weird politics here in this province .

At 3:18 PM, January 07, 2011 , Blogger Edward Hollett said...

Peter, as always your dogged attachment to old prejudices exceeds your willingness to read.

I raised the question about membership a few days ago as one of several about the whole Tory leadership charade.

What Wally has laid out here is the Tory constitutional requirements for "membership". They could be what he says they are. Then again some clever lawyers might wind up arguing about it for a great many billable hours. it doesn't make for a necessarily clean process and it merely adds to the entire charade which is the Tory leadership "contest" all of which will lead up to a predetermined outcome.

And that really is still the big picture even if you wish to pretend I am talking about something else: the Conservatives have not only done a lash-up of a backroom deal, they essentially have a party which is not run from the grass-roots by any stretch of anyone's imagination.

I make no observations on any other political parties because they aren't in a leadership crisis at the moment as are the Tories.

But as someone who has been watching politics for just about all my life, I find it fascinating to watch a political party that once upon a time could handle a leadership contest and that had a vibrant grassroots organization now turn into a very old-fashioned Newfoundland political mob run by a few people in a backroom somewhere. The membership thing is merely a symptom of a much larger decline.

in the meantime, I guess we can add this to the list of things you refuse to believe on the face of it, the evidence be damned. As well, you can also skip the fact that the membership requirements as Wally laid them out makes it pretty clear your "hijacking" defence of the Tory constitution was something you pulled out of your backside or something.

At 3:26 PM, January 07, 2011 , Blogger Mark said...

The problem is that by moving to "universal suffrage" as both the Liberals and Tories claim to have done, is that they set themselves up for running the equivalent of a full-scale provincial election without the resources or structure to support such an endeavour.

So each party, in its bid for greater openness, has instead created a situtation where it is never in their own interest, politically or financially, to actually hold a contest.

At 5:22 PM, January 07, 2011 , Blogger WJM said...

Peter, I agree that the timetable is short, making it difficult for potential contendors to contend. But that's for a whole host of other mechanical reasons involved in leadership races.

Any even remotely serious challenger would have had no trouble finding $5000 and 50 warm bodies in the time allotted for nominations, as conspicuously short as it is. And by getting nominated, they would put some pressure on The Party to actually allow a reasonable time for a real convention and its related campaign to happen.

The real test would be (and who knows, still might be) how quickly The Party would then call the convention itself if the number of nominated candidates ends up being more than one.

At 5:30 PM, January 07, 2011 , Blogger Mark said...

The real test would be (and who knows, still might be) how quickly The Party would then call the convention itself...

Now that IS funny, given that the Constitution required them to already have done so.

At 11:49 PM, January 08, 2011 , Blogger Peter said...

Just so You don't leave the opposite impression, Ed, I've already bought into the evidence that anti-democratic forces at work. You seem to think that my disagreeing with you automatically means I'm cheerleading for the Tories (which demonstrates how blindly partisan you really are).
I think you all take the sabotage risk too lightly. I've been present at atleast two leadership votes (admittedly not political parties) at which new recruits have tried to upset the status quo. I'm ashamed to say I was even one of the rebels at one. Come to think of it, I do remember being at a political nomination where a similar battle took place.
Even if a revolt has been quashed this time, any serious contention with the current leadership will eventually shake loose. It always does.

At 12:11 AM, January 09, 2011 , Blogger WJM said...

I think you all take the sabotage risk too lightly.

Au contraire; I think the sabotage risk in general, if not in the instant case, is quite high, and can't for the life of me imagine why the PCs have structured things the way they have.

If anyone at Toryquarters has been reading, where do I send the invoice?


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