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Conservative Convention 2011: The Game is Afoot

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STEPHEN HARPER
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One of the interesting aspects of politics is analyzing what is going on and attempting to decipher some of its meaning. Rarely does what is in front of you turn out to be the whole story. More often it is but a smoke screen for what is actually taking place or it is but one part of a much longer term strategy.

With the Conservative convention under way, we have renewed efforts to change one of the key provisions of the party's constitution. That provision was a make or break issue for the former PC Party led by Peter MacKay. As a party researcher at the time, I can recall matching the Canadian Alliance and PC constitutions up line by line. This was one of the issues that was flagged at that time as a key obstacle to any merger.

Without getting into all the details, it essentially boils down to differing views on how a leader is elected. Should it be one person, one vote? Should it be based on equality of all ridings regardless of membership size? Should there be a compromise formula that blends the two views together?

One can argue the merits of each viewpoint and I expect there will be much of that on the floor of the convention and in the various hospitality suites. But, the other question is why is it coming up at all and why now? With a majority government for the next four years and a leader that doesn't show any sign of wanting to retire, why do some Conservatives want to risk party unity now with a divisive battle over future leadership rules?

Harper has been in a leadership role first with the Canadian Alliance and afterwards with the newly merged Conservative Party since 2002. This is close to a decade of service. Is someone or some group gambling that Harper might retire before this mandate is up or is it simply a matter of some members feeling disenfranchised under the present system?

Media reports indicate that Scott Reid's riding and Jason Kenney's supported some type of new formula for a future leadership vote. That in itself is interesting as it would be rare for a riding association represented by a minister to move forward such a motion without the minister signing off.

Scott Reid has been front and centre arguing for change. From interviews with the media to appeals to his caucus and delegates he has argued his points, one of which is that this section in the constitution was only supposed to be a temporary measure. I checked and I didn't see the word "temporary" in that provision. Nor did I see a reference that it would be reviewed and amended some years down the road.

To counter Reid's claims that the provision was temporary, three of the most respected names in Canadian politics have come forward to dispute this notion. Bill Davis, Don Mazankowski and Senator Gerry St. Germain were involved in the original merger discussions. They have gone public reinforcing the notion that the present provision in the constitution was never considered to be a temporary solution.

Which brings us back to the question of why risk dividing the party now just after it has achieved a majority? Generally you don't take such a risk in politics without some pretty strong motive or desire behind it.

The next question then becomes, who is playing the long game here? Which potential leadership candidate will such a change to the leadership rules benefit the most?

Let's hope that whatever the result of the vote, the party remains united and weathers the storm created by this issue. This should get interesting. As the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes said, "The game is afoot."

Keith Beardsley's political blog can be found at www.atory01.com

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