American politics is baffling to Canadians at the best of times, what with all those complicated checks and balances, states' rights and electoral colleges and all. Primaries, though, are pretty much a completely alien concept for a country whose political parties are traditionally closed shop.
Hence, when Canada's erstwhile "natural governing party," as the Liberals have been called, starts talking about adopting a primary system to pick a new leader, well, that's worth noting, particularly given that the Liberals have not been known as the most pro-American party. (A notable example: Jean Chretien rejecting George W. Bush's invitation to join the invasion of Iraq).
The Liberals are gathering this weekend in Ottawa for a national convention that is being described as a critical moment in the party's long and remarkable history. In the wake of the general election last May that relegated the Liberals to third place standing in the House of Commons with 34 seats, some observers have been quick to write them off as a spent force.
Though provincial cousins hold power in four provinces, including the three biggest — Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia — and the smallest, Prince Edward Island, the federal wing is in its most precarious position since 1984, when it took a serious thumping after nearly 20 years in power.
One of the proposals on the table on the weekend is a system of 10 regional primaries taking place during a five-month campaign in which party members and non-members alike would get to participate in the debate and vote for the candidates for the party leadership.
Supporters of the idea say such a wide-open process would draw attention to the ideas of individual candidates and offer Canadians an "edgy" race to get voters excited about the party.