January 13, 2012

Canadian Liberals weigh holding primary


One of those supporters is Bob Rae, the interim leader, who, depending on how things work out, may be a candidate himself when the race officially begins, sometime in 2013.

The Liberals' primary notion has itself stirred debate from commentators who see it as a form of democratic participation that is not well-adapted to the Canadian system of government. The most significant difference would be that Americans directly elect their president, whereas the Canadian prime minister is the leader of the party that commands the support of the House of Commons.

Whatever the pros and cons are of a primary system for choosing a federal party leader in Canada, it would be a radical shift from the traditional style of leadership convention. In the case of the Liberals, leadership conventions in the past have produced much drama — and division.

Forty-four years ago, Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, one of Canada's longest serving and most influential prime ministers, narrowly won the leadership in a frantically brokered, nail-biter of a convention.

Then, 38 years later, dark horse candidate Stephane Dion snuck up the middle in another convention featuring wild negotiations on the floor, beating favorites Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. (Dion and Ignatieff would go on to join Edward Blake of the 1880s as the only federal Liberal leaders who never became prime minister.)

Other Liberal leadership contests left the party with feuding factions that now appear to have finally made peace in the wake of the epic defeat in May.

Although there are no official candidates yet, Liberals in favor of a primary-style leadership race argue that the wide-open process may encourage a wider pool of hopefuls — much like American primaries often start with a large and diverse field.

While the proposal for a primary system would align the Liberals closer to American electoral politics, another resolution on the floor this weekend would push the party towards a republican form of government. A youth-wing motion calls for a Liberal government to rid Canada of the monarchy.

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