I bear sad tidings and bad news: A. Fotheringham will not be here this week. He is in Pain, British Columbia, thus suffering disabilities compounded by geography. Medical supplies, however, will be flown in from Toronto once the fog lifts, maybe twice, weather permitting.
Further to geography, Fotheringham’s Complaint permits the opportunity to bring his several readers news concerning political happenings in Eastern Canada hitherto unreported in this space and not yet available even to viewers of The Journal. Events unfolding in New Brunswick (this is about Eastern Canada, remember) and within the Liberal party thereof are sufficiently incomprehensible as to confound political scientists and other seminarians now and for years to come. The Liberal doings represent not just another chapter in the annals of Canadian politics but more likely the book.
In 1978, where our saga begins, the New Brunswick Liberals had a new leader, Joe Daigle, and a third crack at trying to defeat Richard Hatfield’s Conservatives in a general election. They missed, but only just, the final score being 30 to 28; even though Daigle’s Grits stood closer to victory than any opposition elsewhere in the land—a heartbeat or two away, you could say, from power.
Among Joe Daigle’s endearing qualities was his enthusiasm for party democracy. Early on in his leadership, he personally introduced the principle of leadership review to his party’s constitution. Thus, it came to pass, in February of 1981, that the New Brunswick Liberals convened in Moncton to review their leader. The result, in rounded percentages, was 70 to 30 in favor of Daigle, not quite a ringing endorsement but, all agreed, sufficiently supportive to give the leader a deserved new lease on life. The delegates then departed Moncton, exchanging vows of fealty and unity, and proclaiming a rekindled faith in the therapeutic powers of party democracy.
Nine months later, Joe Daigle was out of a job, cashiered by his caucus colleagues, 23 of whom, voting in a kangaroo court, elected to see him to the door. What we have in the result is a novel
Dalton Camp is a syndicated columnist; Allan Fotheringham is ill.
political equivalency: the votes of 70 per cent of the members of a duly constituted party congress are less than equivalent to the votes of 23 ordained caucus members.
There will be a Liberal leadership convention later this month, and there are now four aspiring candidates
If the leader is not accountable to his
party, then to whom? Answer: to the caucus. Then to whom is the caucus responsible? Answer: to no one.
stumping the province, grovelling for support. Needless to say, they are, to a man, anxious to acknowledge the superior wisdom and authority of the party, of the dear rank and file, the blessed grassroots, while pledging themselves, if chosen to lead, to a life of eternal consultation and communion on a daily basis. Two of the candidates, including the front-runner, were among those who
gang banged Joe Daigle.
Introspection comes no less easily to partisans than does original thought, but at least a few of the rank and file have been unable to rid themselves of the gnawing feeling that something has somewhere gone wrong. The president of the Baie du Vin Liberal Association, for one, has recently come to the conclusion that it seemed “ironic” to him to have 70 per cent of the party endorse Daigle in February and 23 caucus members dismiss him in November. So saying, he resigned, a puzzled man.
Obviously, the mechanism of leadership review was intended to enable a party to remove a leader whose services were no longer required by a majority of those who had originally retained him. But it was also a mechanism intended to renew the leader’s mandate, a majority being willing. If leadership review cannot effectively do both, it cannot really do either. In the New Brunswick example, the Liberal party, having voted to retain Joe Daigle and the caucus having voted otherwise, is now obliged to find itself another leader. It logically follows that had the party voted to sack its leader, the caucus could have reversed that judgment just as easily.
Since one of these assumptions has already been proven, and the other can be reasonably assumed, why bother with leadership review at all? If the caucus has the power to veto any party decisions with respect to the leadership, what powers are then left to the party? Answer: none. If the leader is not accountable to his party, then to whom? Answer: to the caucus. Then to whom is the caucus responsible? Answer: to no one.
Students of the game should note that New Brunswick has long been something of a harbinger in Canadian politics, having tried everything at least once, and this embarrassingly brief encounter of the provincial Liberals with party democracy may herald sweeping changes throughout the country in party practices. Meanwhile some 2,400 assorted Grits are girding up to assemble in Fredericton to vote on something they have previously voted not to vote on. It’s surely a peculiar way of going about things, but as one observer noted, “It’s like porcupines. No one knows how they do it, either. The hell of it is, they do it anyways.”
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