At its convention this weekend in Ottawa, the federal Conservative Party will be asked to revisit the proper balance between two great principles of Canadian democracy: the equality of every party member, and the equality of every riding.
The Conservatives' current system of selecting a leader is based on the equality of every riding. But instead of holding a central delegated convention to choose the leader, all party members may vote locally in their own riding. One hundred points are allocated equally to each riding. These points are then distributed among the several candidates for leader, in proportion to the votes they received in each riding.
This system is a happy combination of the twin principles of one party member, one vote, and the equal importance of every riding across Canada.
But Ontario Conservative MP Scott Reid now proposes that the convention change this system, on the ground that it's unfair to ridings with very large memberships.
But instead of improving it (for example, by returning to a central delegated leadership convention), Mr. Reid wants to make the system less fair, abandoning entirely the basic principle of the equality of all ridings - a principle in virtue of which he himself was elected to the House of Commons - and replacing it with a contrived and needlessly complex system of points based on the current membership of each riding association.
Retaining the principle of the equality of all ridings was a deal-breaker for the Progressive Conservatives under Peter MacKay when his party voted to merge with the Canadian Alliance under Stephen Harper. The old Reform Party's leadership selection formula of one member, one vote was set aside as less conducive to the formation of a truly national party with strength in all regions of Canada.
In the view of many Conservatives, in Quebec and elsewhere, Mr. Reid's proposal is unnecessary, retrograde and divisive and, if adopted, extremely damaging to the party in many parts of Canada. It would further discourage party workers in hostile ridings with small memberships and small bank accounts by making them feel even more unequal than they already feel. And it would reduce the incentive for leadership candidates to even bother with Quebec, and to be bilingual, as every national party leader in Canada should be.
Mr. Reid's proposal is an example of pushing an abstract principle to extremes, while forgetting that successful politics is based on compromise and on the respect of the strong for the weak.
Mr. Reid would do well to remember what Thomas Jefferson and many others have said about the tyranny of the majority, and the honourable duty to respect the rights and dignity of the minority.
In Quebec, the Conservatives received only 16.5 per cent of the popular vote on May 2, while their average in the rest of the country was 44.4 per cent. Only five Conservative MPs were elected in Quebec's 75 seats.
As a long-time Quebec Conservative, I can say that many of us are determined to win more Quebec seats in the next election if given the freedom to do so in our own way, as we did in 1984 and 1988.
Quebec Conservatives know that approval of Mr. Reid's resolution will give the media and our political opponents in Quebec another opportunity to crow that Conservatives just don't care about our province, that they have no interest in understanding our special circumstances, and that they just want to put Quebec in its place one more time.
Peter White is president of the Conservative Association of Brome-Missisquoi.
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