— Photo by James McLeod The Telegram
The crowd of Tories at the Hampton Inn Suites was so big that the lineup stretched out the door.
All told, 165 members of the PC party registered to vote in the Virginia Waters leadership delegate selection meeting.
While waiting for things to get underway, people filled out their ballots in laps, up against walls — one woman even used former cabinet minister Trevor Taylor’s back as a hard surface to fill out her ballot.Taylor laughed and joked The Telegram should report, “Believe it or not, he’s not as useless as people think.”
One hundred and sixty-five is the best turnout of any delegate selection meeting so far; in Arnold’s Cove over the weekend, only 17 people turned out to vote, and based on the most up-to-date information available, the average turnout is around 65 people.
Unless there’s a sudden burst of participation in the meetings to come, including voters, MHAs, and other party mandarins, fewer than 4,000 people will participate in picking the next premier.
By contrast, 23,873 people cast ballots in the Liberal leadership last year to pick Dwight Ball.
As Tories gather at delegate selection meetings across the province, all three leadership contenders acknowledge the flaws in the process.
“The delegate selection process of electing a leader is archaic and I think it needs to be abolished,” Steve Kent said.
John Ottenheimer didn’t mince words either.
“The system cries out for some sort of reform,” he said.
Paul Davis agreed that the party should look to change the way leadership selection happens — maybe not copy the Liberals, he said, but certainly change it to encourage more participation.
“I’m not sure that the process we have now gives the best opportunity to be open to the most people,” he said. “It doesn’t lend itself to maximize opportunities for party discussion.”
It’s not just the voting itself. The Liberals organized several public debates in the months before party supporters voted.
Thus far, 20 of the 48 district delegate selection meetings have already happened, and the three Tory leadership candidates haven’t met for any debates, although apparently some are in the works.
At the Virginia Waters meeting, several Tories said it’s a matter of conversations and debate happening among grassroots members. The campaign isn’t as public as the Liberal process was, but the discussions are still taking place.
Another big factor seen to influence voting at the delegate selection meetings is endorsements by prominent party members — especially local MHAs.
At the Hampton Inn, the recently-retired local Tory MHA — former premier Kathy Dunderdale — showed up to cast a ballot, but she wasn’t endorsing anybody publicly.
“None of your business,” she said, when the Telegram asked. “That’s why we have a secret ballot.”