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Federal Liberal leadership race rules undemocratic, unethical

Set out below is a letter-to-the-editor by Democracy Watch Coordinator Tyler Sommers which was published in the Huffington Post on September 9, 2012

The Liberal Party of Canada recently revealed the rules governing their next party leadership election.Despite having an opportunity to set ethical and democratic rules for this race to ensure that it is not tarnished, as past races have been, by unethical, secretive, unfair, and unrepresentative actions by candidates and officials, the party failed to go far enough in doing so.

To uphold the democratic principles of one person, one vote, and of honesty, openness, ethics and fair and accurate representation, the Liberal Party should have made decisions to eliminate or drastically limit the entry fee and require the disclosure of key information regarding the race.

Setting the entry fee at $75,000 poses an undue hurdle for many potential candidates and should have been replaced through allowing candidates to qualify by gathering signatures and support, not by buying their way into the race.

In law, because of loopholes, candidates for leadership are not required to disclose all of the donations they receive nor are they required to disclose the support they receive through volunteer labour.  The party could have remedied this and in doing so established a much more open, transparent, and democratic leadership election through requiring the disclosure of all donations and requiring disclosure so that anyone who does a favour for a candidate will be known and potential conflicts of interest could be avoided.

Learning from past leadership races and the incredible amount of debt that candidates have taken on loans to candidates by themselves should have been prohibited, and the amount of any loan should have been limited to the same level that donations are limited ($1,300).

To ensure that every voter can cast a ballot and exercise their democratic right of voting for whom they want everyone should be given the option of voting “none-of-the-above” if they don’t like any of the candidates.

These changes should be instituted by all parties and added to the Elections Act, as promised by the federal Conservatives in 2006, to ensure that political parties choosing a potential Prime Minister operate democratically.  Unfortunately the Liberal party has missed out on an opportunity to establish a strong and democratic precedent for future leadership elections not only within their party, but for all federal and provincial political parties.

For more details, go to Democracy Watch’s Voter Rights Campaign page