Leadership hopefuls (from left to right) - Gerard Kennedy, Harinder Takhar, Eric Hoskins, Charles Sousa, Glen Murray, Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne at the debate for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party held at the Ajax Convention Centre in Ajax, ON on Sunday Jan. 6, 2013.
Credits: QMI AGENCY
Last weekend Ontario Liberals selected the 1,853 delegates who will pick the leader on Jan. 26 .
Most delegates were already declared supporters of a candidate. Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne each finished with around 500 delegates. The other candidates have between 250 and 100.
The rest of the work lies in the backroom deals brokered between candidates leading up to the convention. If one of the candidates has to drop out after the second or third ballot, where will he send his supporters? It has little to do with the quality of ideas or the candidates' convention speeches.
Then there are the over 400 ex-officio candidates. Riding presidents, former MPPs and others are guaranteed a vote. Again, operatives work the phones to lock them into place well in advance. It's a heavily controlled process mapped out by a handful of rainmakers.
Sounds like great political intrigue. But keep in mind this convention is different than most. Usually a new leader is selected after the last one resigned due to a drubbing in the polls. The party tends to be in opposition or third and the focus is rebuilding.
But the Liberals are in power. The winner automatically becomes premier. Selected by 2,300 people to represent 13 million.
The winner will make decisions that can impact where Ontario sits on the equalization payment grid, its tally of manufacturing jobs, and other items of national concern.
So: Delegated conventions bad for the country? Giving democracy a bad rep? No doubt.
But it can also cripple the party using it.
Flashback to the 2006 federal Liberal leadership. The 5,800 delegates voted in Stephane Dion on the fourth ballot. Even someone with the worst political sensibility could have told you Dion was many things - experienced, intelligent, nice - but leader he was not. How'd that happen? Well, they got obsessed with inside baseball issues that became meaningless once the weekend was over.
Delegated conventions aren't about policy. They're not even about personality. They're a game. Anyone who has watched them unfold can attest to the odd manoeuvrings that see delegates physically shuffle from one candidate to the other. It's like an adult version of red rover in the school gym.
The 2004 inaugural campaign of the Conservatives that gave Stephen Harper the leadership was close to a "one member, one vote" (OMOV) process. There were no delegates. Instead, each riding had 100 points to be distributed to candidates based on the proportion of votes they received in that riding.
In 2009 Tim Hudak was selected leader of the Ontario PCs by 25,000 members through more or less the same process.
This year's federal Liberal race will also weight ridings equally and introduce the new non-member "supporter" category. The latter was created with a view to avoiding the sort of closed-door process Ontario Liberals are now undergoing.
Last year's federal NDP leadership was the most purely OMOV. The 65,000 members who elected Thomas Mulcair were also allowed mailed in and online ballots.
In fairness, some Ontario Liberals have been considering OMOV but Dalton McGuinty's resignation caught them off guard.
Were they in opposition, being behind the convention times wouldn't be such a big deal. But that so few people are selecting such a position gives this antique method a greater sting.