09/14/2011 11:15 EDT | Updated 11/14/2011 05:12 EST

Leadership Election Rules in Desperate Need of Reform

Ideally, given that two federal parties currently do not have leaders, all parties should work together and pass a bill that democratizes party leadership and nomination races and uphold the democratic principles of one person, one vote, and of honesty, openness, ethics and fair and accurate representation.


The federal Conservatives promised in the 2006 election to change the law to ensure party nomination and leadership races are conducted in a fair, transparent, and democratic manner, but they broke that promise. Today parties can hold what I believe to be unfair, secretive and undemocratic races, including in some ways during elections.

This is an important issue because these races elect prime ministers and opposition party leaders who have a lot of power over other parliamentarians, and the government overall in the case of the prime minister.

So ideally, given that two federal parties currently do not have leaders, all parties will work together and pass a bill that democratizes party leadership and nomination races (and election races in some ways) as the first thing they do when Parliament opens in a couple of weeks. This will ensure that the current and all future federal party leadership, nomination and election races will all be required to be democratic and run by Elections Canada.

To uphold the democratic principles of one person, one vote, and of honesty, openness, ethics and fair and accurate representation, the Canada Elections Act (and, as well, all similar provincial and territorial laws) should be changed to add the following rules:

• Entrance signatures, not fees -- Candidates for party leadership should be allowed to register not because they pay a large sum of money, but because they gather signatures of individual supporters (given that these are federal parties, about 2,000 signatures should be required, including from party members in at least six provinces and two territories). If an entrance fee is used, it should be no more than $10,000 gathered in donations of no more than $1,100 each from individuals (and, ideally, in donations of no more than $650). Nomination races for local ridings should have a much lower signature requirement (maximum 100 signatures) and no entrance fee;

• Require disclosure of all donations received -- Currently, the Canada Elections Act only requires disclosure donations worth more than $200 of money, property or services that party leadership candidates use for their campaigns, and so the rule must be that every candidate must sign a pledge that they will not take donations outside their campaign donations (MPs who become candidates are already prohibited by their ethics code (sections 2(e), 3 ("benefit) and 14) from taking such gifts, except the gift of sponsored travel which is legal (under section 15), even though it is clearly unethical) -- Prime Minister Harper's leadership race was tarnished by the fact that he did not disclose some of the identities and donation amounts for his donors. Nomination race (and election) candidates should also be required to disclose their donors before voting day;

• Require tracking and disclosure of volunteer labour -- Currently, under the Canada Elections Act it is illegal for any type of organization to pay anyone to volunteer for a campaign, but this rule is impossible to enforce because volunteer labour is not required to be tracked or disclosed -- so the rule must require tracking and disclosure of volunteer labour by each candidate in leadership and nomination races (and in election campaigns);

• Small loans only from financial institutions -- Though Bill C-19 was not passed into law before the last election (even though it was introduced by the Conservatives on April 28, 2010), the Bill's proposed rule should be applied prohibiting loans to all types of candidates in all races from anyone except a registered financial institution (and, beyond the Bill's proposed rule, those loans should be limited to maximum $1,100 -- the same amount as the limit on individual donations, and preferably maximum $650). The Liberals 2006 leadership race was tainted by people who loaned very large amounts to some candidates (including two candidates who loaned large amounts to themselves, which Elections Canada should have prohibited because a loan to yourself is, by definition, a donation);

• Reasonable spending limit -- Commentators who complain about current federal donation limits always claim that parties and party leadership candidates (and nomination race candidates) can't raise the amounts they need (even though no one knows what those amounts are, and even though at least one party and candidate have not had any problems raising money since the limits came into effect in January 2007). No one knows exactly how much a candidate must spend to have a successful campaign and become leader of a federal party, but the NDP and Liberals can certainly set a reasonable limit by not allowing spending above the actual total cost of usual modern campaign activities, and this limit should be set in law;

• New members by a specific date -- In order to ensure that "fake" party members are not signed up at the last minute in questionable ways, a person should have to join the party at least 45 days before the vote in order to vote in a leadership or nomination race;

• One member, one vote -- Every person who joins the party by the due date should have one vote for the leader (no weighted votes or convention of delegates, and no votes for any type of organization). Ideally the voting system should allow voters to rank the candidates on a ballot so that the winner has the broadest and deepest support of party members;

• Allow none-of-the-above vote -- Voters in every election, and in nomination and party leadership races, should always have the right to vote none-of-the-above (or, as in Ontario, effectively do the same by declining their ballot);

• Elections Canada running election -- Currently, the Canada Elections Act allows parties to run party leadership and nomination races, and it should be changed to give Elections Canada the power and mandate to run all of these races including ratifying party memberships, producing, distributing and counting ballots;

• Independent audits -- Currently, the Canada Elections Act also allows party leadership candidates (and other political candidates, riding associations, and parties) to choose their own auditor, which is a recipe for hiding violations of the rules. Elections Canada should be appointing the auditors for all campaign audits and annual audits.

Until these changes are made, prime ministers and federal party leaders will continue to be elected, and MPs nominated, through processes that are tainted by dishonest, unethical, secretive, unfair and unrepresentative activities.

Provincial and territorial governments have the same loopholes in their laws that also allow for undemocratic activities during party leadership races, as has been made clear in recent races in Alberta (Conservatives), B.C. (Liberals and NDP), and Newfoundland and Labrador (Conservatives), and will see soon in New Brunswick (Liberals) and Newfoundland (Liberals).