You must choose, but choose wisely - The Orca

You must choose, but choose wisely

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Scott Harrison: The rules for the upcoming BC Liberal leadership race will have a profound effect on provincial politics for years. It’s vital to get it right.

Dear BC Liberal leadership election organizing committee and party members, I have some suggestions to improve the upcoming leadership election.

Why should they listen to this former member? I have 20 years of history with the party from 1997 to 2017, including seven years as a riding president, 10 years on the Provincial Executive in four roles, a field organizer, and MLA candidate in 2013. I played an active role in crafting the current party constitution, and have worked on a few leadership races.

The BCLP Executive has a lot of flexibility to develop rules for the leadership vote, including spending limits, registration fees, fundraising, voting systems and voting process. These rules will most likely include a ranked ballot voting process.

I have seen the strengths and weaknesses of this process. With ranked online or mail-in member voting, parties across the spectrum have lost the drama and media attention of a convention, undermining the new leaders’ long-term prospects.

Here are my suggestions.

Make membership free  

We have done this before. Database management is now inexpensive, and the data is more valuable than the membership fee revenues. An additional benefit is reducing the financial barriers for people to join.

How to combat fake registrations and other voter fraud? Perhaps, you have to download a party app? Take a picture of your ID and agree to the membership obligations. The app could be used for voting as well or at least securely transmitting election voting numbers. The app could be the basis of future campaign activities in 2024.

Leadership Vote and Convention

Hold the convention in the Spring 2022 – hopefully in a post-COVID BC. And I would structure it using three rounds of voting online over a seven-day period, like this:

First, on the Saturday, a ranked ballot to reduce the field down to three leading candidates.

Second, on the Wednesday: another vote (not ranked) to further reduce three candidates to a final two. How many members would change their vote if they had a chance to see the final three candidates? I suspect quite a few.

Finally, Leadership Voting Day. The final runoff, with an in-person option at a convention – again, hopefully post-COVID.

Why do this? Step 1’s ranked ballot helps narrow the list of candidates, which helps focus the media and voters. This three-stage voting approach will provide a week of media attention, as opposed to one afternoon, providing a much better platform for the future leader.

Another reason, frankly, is because it will be more challenging. Three exercises in GOTV (Get Out The Vote) will test the capacity of any leaders’ team – and exactly the type of leadership and organizational skills needed to win a general election in 2024.

Spending limits and entrance fees.

Entry fees need to encourage a diversity of candidates and build member and donor support. There must be benchmarks to ensure high-quality candidates.

A $5,000 initial entrance fee could encourage this, with fundraising and membership sales targets to stay in the race. The entry fee should increase every month by $5,000 until it reaches $70,000, 45 days before the vote. The maximum spending limit should be $50,000 for each month the campaign runs. Assuming it runs 14 months, the maximum would be $700,000 per campaign.

I suggest the BCLP take a percentage of all leadership funds raised, but Elections BC laws do not allow tax receipts for leadership donations. Still, all donations must be reported and are subject to the same rules as donating to a political party. Spending limits should apply to all periods leading up to the vote, including the period before the rules are approved by the party – in other words, right now.

My fear is some campaigns are already actively working, in part to get a head start, but in part to skirt these rules. This is an excellent way to destroy public trust.

I wasn’t a member of the party for the last leadership vote. But my hope is that someone will inspire me to rejoin, and support their leadership. To rebuild the BCLP, it needs to find a leader that can define what BC free enterprise is and why BC needs more of it in 2024 and beyond.

Scott Harrison is born and raised Vancouverite, father of two boys, community builder, entrepreneur, retired paperboy and political geek.