11 January 2011

Connie Leadership 2011: Brad and circuses

Conservative Party insiders are so desperate to block any leadership contest that they are willing to creatively reinterpret the party constitution so that only people they chose get to be members for the purposes of deciding who gets to lead the party.

CBC’s David Cochrane reported on Monday that the Conservatives evaluating Cabana’s nomination forms have decided that “members” are only the members of district associations and other similar people described in one subsection of Article 5 of the party constitution:

ARTICLE 5 MEMBERSHIP

1. All persons who are residents or domiciled in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and who support the principles and aims of the Party are eligible to become members of the Party.

2. Subjects to Article 5-1 all individual members of affiliated associations and groups who support the principles and aims of the Party shall be members of the Party.

3. Notwithstanding Article 5-1 and Article 5-2, all members of the Provincial Executive Council as defined in Article 7-1 who support the principles and aims of the Party shall be members of the Party. Any member of the Provincial Executive Council who ceases to support the principles and aims of the Party will automatically cease to be a member of the Provincial Executive Council and forfeit all rights and privileges associated therewith.

Now that’s not really ambiguous except to anyone lacking basic English language skills.  The sub-section da byes are relying on is the third one but that only makes sure that the district and provincial executive people get counted as members and that resigning from such a position has a price.

The main bits of the section define membership pretty broadly.

But if the back-room boys succeed in disqualifying Brad Cabana because he doesn’t have any Sub-section 3 “members” on his nomination form, that might not be the only problem they cause.  Cabana is reportedly planning a legal challenge to this bit of  legal tomfoolery, and that would normally be enough of a problem.

The Conservative insiders who are trying to dictate who gets to be Premier may also cause themselves some other embarrassment if not real legal difficulties.

You see, membership also affects who can be candidates in elections.  Plus, under Article 12 of the Conservative party constitution the definition of membership also determines who may vote in a candidate selection process:

Eligible voters entitled to vote for a person to be elected as the Party Candidate are those persons who are members of the District Association, ordinarily resident in the Electoral District at the date of the Nominating Meeting and who are not less than eighteen (18) years of age either at the date of the nominating meeting or at the date of the election, if the date of the election has been set.

So it doesn’t take too much imagination to see that if “members” are only people currently serving on a district executive, then the party will pretty quickly cease to exist.  The only people they can nominate as a candidate to replace Danny for example are one of the people currently sitting on the Humber west executive.

Underneath it all, though, what people across Canada  are really seeing here is the attitude some people have to political parties in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The attitude is consistent with the sort of patronage-riddled, paternalism that has defined the past decade or so of provincial politics.

Under that model, the party is merely the handful of back-room brokers who rule over everyone and everything else. They are accountable to no one except themselves.

Listen to how many people who have said already that if the caucus is decided then Cabana doesn’t stand a chance. That reflects the old-fashioned view of a party and ignores the fact that even under the Conservative constitution, a significant chunk of the delegates to a leadership convention are supposed to be elected in each of the districts.

You can also see the old-fashioned notions contained in this if you look at the complete lunacy of the Conservative position.  Danny Williams argued that Roger Grimes, elected by a convention of elected delegates couldn’t stay on as premier.  To make sure that couldn’t happen again – supposedly – Williams and his colleagues set new rules with changes to the province’s Elections Act that would require a general election under certain circumstances.

Yet, under the Conservative Party’s own constitution, the caucus gets to appoint an interim leader. If by some chance Cabana’s nomination stands, the Conservative caucus will select not one but two caretaker Premiers in as many months. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have not seen such transient premierships since the 1920s when premiers came and went with the shifting coalitions within the legislature.

Politics in this province is in a parlous state.  The fundamental rot of the whole structure could not be more clearly seen than in the circus that is the once-proud Conservative Party struggling to find someone who actually wants the job while fighting to exclude someone who apparently does.

- srbp -

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