I did something the other day I thought I’d never do. Something which in my previous career as a broadcast journalist would have been verboten. Something admittedly rather uncool. Yes, I signed up as a supporter of a federal political party. The Liberal Party of Canada, to be exact.
To be clear, I don’t identify as a big-L Liberal. Odds are, neither do you. The vast majority of adults in this country aren’t members of any federal party, and probably find partisanship rather tiresome. So why did I do it? Because I believe this leadership race will shape the outcome of the 2015 election, and possibly the course of our democracy for years to come. So I want a vote.
I want a vote because I think Stephen Harper needs to go. And I can’t see that happening without some kind of electoral co-operation between the opposition parties. What method or mechanism would work best, I’m not sure. The problem right now is we’re not even having the conversation.
One year ago, the Grits adopted a new party constitution, creating a new category called “supporters.” A supporter’s vote in the leadership race is equal to that of a lifelong party member. The difference is supporters pay nothing to join, and can sign up on the Liberal party website in about a minute.
I asked party spokesperson Sarah Bain how they verify these assertions. She wrote back: “Like all parties, we rely on the honesty of individuals and their respect for democratic parties. We do not know who is a member of other parties. We rely on their solemn declaration upon registering.”
So the Liberals have thrown the doors open on an unprecedented democratic experiment. To date, party volunteers have signed up about 40,000 new “supporters.” With two months to go, pro-co-operation voters can make that number far larger.
If you think about it, this is a rare opportunity to redefine our relationship as citizens to a still-potent political institution. The larger our voting bloc, the more powerful our ability to shape internal policy conversations. The more focused we are on co-operation, the more the candidates will have to acknowledge our concerns and articulate where they stand. Some have already.
I’ve spoken to people high up in the NDP, the Greens and Liberals who really do want to work together — and think this strategy has potential. There are many people in these parties capable of basic arithmetic, and they harbour a very reasonable fear of losing again.
The current NDP leadership officially believes it can win government single-handedly. Bringing them around will be the next major challenge. Meantime, many Liberal loyalists harbour similar fantasies. We need to deliver these people a reality check.
These are facts: Harper’s team is better funded, better organized and collects better data. The Tories are apt students of the electoral dark arts. And they will have 30 new ridings in Conservative-friendly suburbs to lap up in 2015. Their job is getting easier, not harder.
If the NDP, Liberals and Greens can’t find a way not to cancel out each other’s efforts, Harper will cruise straight to another victory. Electing a Liberal leader who understands this is our first, best chance of stopping it.
If we get sidetracked by old grievances, it’s over. If we get into semantic debates over who’s a “progressive,” it’s over. We need to focus on the one thing we stand a chance of agreeing on, and that’s the mathematical necessity of co-operation.
Kai Nagata is a writer and videographer based in Vancouver. He previously held positions at CTV and CBC.