Well, it has been an interesting few weeks. There had been an effort on the part of an element of the Wildrose Party to bypass the party constitution and limit who may or may not run for positions on the provincial executive committee. With inquiries, investigation and finally exposure, this misguided procedure was rescinded and we again have a constitutionally sound process in place for members to pursue positions on the executive committee.
While nobody will directly admit to having drafted the initial offending application document, one justification often trotted out has been “We need to filter out people who may do damage to the party”. That is a good intent indeed but good intent still does not allow us to bypass our constitution.
It is worth discussion and examining though if we do need a layer of vetting candidates seeking spots on the executive committee. Should the process be changed at all though, the party constitution will have to be amended at another general meeting with appropriate notice having been given. It is tough to amend the constitution (and it should be). An amendment to the party constitution needs 75% support at a general meeting so the amendment had better be well drafted if it is going to be accepted by the membership.
Now where do we begin with setting bars for who may or may not run for an executive committee position in the party?
Some people quickly say that a criminal record should be enough to bar somebody from seeking a position on the provincial executive. OK, to begin with we will need a much longer application process in order for a newly empowered nominating committee to do a criminal background check on every potential nominee. Now when we are speaking of criminal records, is it really fair to decline somebody based on any conviction over every period of time? If a person was caught with 1/2 a joint in their pocket in 1983 should they be banned for life from running for positions in the party? A bar brawl in 1975? Attempted murder in 1999? I don’t think simply setting the bar at a person having had a criminal record will cut it.
If one is going to put weight on the type of record and the time since the conviction, we will need a document the size of an encyclopedia set in order to lay out the guidelines. If we ban all with any record though, does one honestly think that if we had a regional zone director who had been charged with possessing a joint in the 1980s would cause a scandal bringing the party into disrepute? It gets tough.
What about disallowing somebody for behavior unbecoming. That bar would open a huge can of worms as a committee, a potential nominee and their supporters try to fight that out. What could that behaviour be? What about my stunt in Olympic Plaza last year? Would my having done that preclude me from running for a position (don’t worry I am still not seeking one)? Would participation in other types of protests block applicants? Would having been critical of some elements or actions of the party be reason enough to bar a person from running? Setting such a subjective bar could really make for a mess.
Let’s get to everybody’s favorite example in this though. Most can agree that Alan Hunsperger and his infamous “Lake of Fire” blog posting seriously derailed our campaign last spring. What some people are forgetting though is that Hunsperger passed through a candidate selection process that went through a committee that was empowered to disallow his candidacy based on all of the above bars I spoke of. The reason Hunsperger slipped through the cracks is that like our current Party President, he was acclaimed in his position and never had to endure the scrutiny of the membership in a race for his position.
Had there been a contested race for the nomination in Hunsperger’s constituency, you can bet that a challenging candidate would have deeply researched his opponent and found things such as questionable blog postings. If the other candidate does not check that deeply, members deciding who to vote for in the nomination will still look into things. Most party members want to make an informed choice. There is no guarantee of course that a nomination would have exposed these things, but we know for sure that a strongly empowered nominating committee seemed to have missed them.
We may need to set some bars somewhere but it has to be understood that this is no easy task and can be terribly risky in making room for some less than democratic minded groups to mess with board elections.
One of the pivotal points in the Wildrose Party history was the merger of the Alberta Alliance Party and the Wildrose group to form the party that we have today. At the new organization’s first general meeting where a new provincial executive was to be elected, a group of questionable merit tried to get a slate elected to the executive committee. As can be seen in the outcome though, the gathered membership rejected every single person on that slate! The membership can be trusted to make wise decisions when given the opportunity.
What the Wildrose Party needs to do to ensure good people fill roles of authority within the party is to open up the process further as opposed to narrowing the scope of applicants. The more people we see contesting executive committee positions, the more likely that the membership will select good representatives. Unlike this year, we need to announce earlier when meetings are coming and seek out people to run for spots. We need campaigns where prospective board members have to convince party members of their merit and what they can bring to the management of the party.
While the provincial executive committee is very important and empowered within the party, it also has to be considered that it is not a terribly public role. Can you name 5 members of the PC party executive off hand? Can you name 5 Wildrose Party executive members? Aside from inside wonks, most people at large don’t pay close attention to people in these roles. It does not make headline news if one of a party’s executive members turns out to have a criminal record or has done something weird in their past. It is not like provincial election candidates with the public scrutiny and fallout if there are issues.
We must take care to get the best people we can managing our party. If given the chance, the collected membership will pick the best nearly every time. Let’s make sure the membership always retains that choice and be extremely careful should we chose to walk down the road in examining limitations to participation in any role in the party.