Liberal leadership process could get tangly

James
James McLeod
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There are five people in Newfoundland and Labrador who want to be Liberal leader bad enough to pay $20,000 and campaign for the job.

Over the next four months, they’ll shake hands, make speeches, pose for pictures and do whatever it takes to sign up new party members and supporters who will vote for them.

But on Nov. 15th, it won’t necessarily be the candidate with the most votes who will win it all. The Liberals are using a process to pick the new leader that’s been pioneered elsewhere in Canada, but has never been used before — by any party — in Newfoundland and Labrador.

On Friday, when the deadline to get into the race passed, there were five contestants: Paul Antle, Dwight Ball, Cathy Bennett, Jim Bennett and Danny Dumaresque.

To get their names into the race, leadership candidates needed to pay $20,000 (in four convenient instalments of $5,000 between July 5 and Aug. 30) and had to get 50 signatures on their nomination forms from party members or supporters in at least 10 electoral districts.

Starting this week, candidates can go forth and campaign.

The five contenders have until Sept. 30 to sign up new Liberal members and supporters. To become a supporter you don’t have to pay and you don’t have to sign up for full-blown membership — you just have to fill out a form online. It takes less than two minutes, depending on how fast you can type.

 

Weighted by district

In terms of the voting process, the Liberal party has boiled it down into one neat little sentence in the leadership rules: “The vote to select the (Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party) leader shall be a preferential one person/one vote system, weighted by provincial district.”

In November, all party members and supporters will cast a preferential ballot. Voting will primarily happen using telephone and Internet. The party will contract out the work to a firm specializing in that sort of thing, and all the ranked votes will go into a computer.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Each electoral district gets 100 points for a total of 4,800 points across the province’s 48 districts. The winner is the candidate who manages to get 2,401 points — 50 per cent plus one vote. Candidates get points based on the share of the vote they get in each individual district.

That means in one district, there may be 2,000 Liberals voting, and in another district, there may be 20 voters, but the districts each have 100 points to be apportioned.

If nobody gets to the magic number of 2,401 points on the first ballot, then the candidate with the lowest number of points gets dropped off, along with anybody who got less than five per cent. The computer then takes the ballots cast for those candidates and looks to see who the second choices are, and those candidates get votes in the second round.

If nobody has 2,401 points after the second round, then the bottom candidate gets dropped, and things go on to a third round, and so on, until somebody gets more than 50 per cent of the electoral points.

It’s a fairly new system. The federal Liberals used essentially the same structure to pick Justin Trudeau as leader (he won overwhelmingly on the first ballot, though, so they didn’t really get into the tangly issues involving ranked ballots and regional weighting.)

The NDP used a ranked ballot, too, but there were four rounds of voting before Thomas Mulcair was picked as the leader.

There are a few important features of the system that are clear.

In the Liberals’ system, a candidate benefits if they’ve got steady support across as many electoral districts as possible — especially the electoral districts that only have a few Liberal voters in them. Being organized across the province and having a faithful core of voters spread throughout Newfoundland and Labrador is the surest path to victory.

Also, because it’s a ranked ballot, it helps to be likable, even if you don’t get voters fired up. Cutthroat campaigning will do more to hurt you than help you, because even if you’re not the voters’ favourite, you still want them to mark you as their second choice.

On the other hand, if you’re the sort of candidate who’s really polarizing for Liberals, the ranked ballot could work against you. If there

are voters who really dislike you, they’ll rank you at the bottom of their ballot. That means that no matter what happens, those votes will go to anybody but you, and they could be the boost your rival needs to win it all.

A week is an eternity in politics. Four and a half months is an unfathomably long time, and literally anything could happen. But it’s important to know that the person who wins the Liberal leadership on Nov. 17th won’t necessarily be the person who gets the most votes. It’ll be the person who wins under the current leadership process.

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Alice
    July 10, 2013 - 11:55

    Just finishes reading the article in the western star...It show poor leadership on behalf of the liberal party...

  • Fat Tony
    July 09, 2013 - 16:43

    no mention of the fact that this campaign has no financial limits and any funds donated need not be reported. Cathy Burgers - and her hamburgler gang of pretend McLiberals - are lovin it.

  • Susan
    July 09, 2013 - 16:08

    Mr.McLeod are you trying to tell the people of NL theres something fishy about the Leadership Candidate Race?