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If Britain's tradition-bound Conservatives can experiment,
why can't Canadian parties?
Earlier this month, Canada's electoral officers - officials of Elections Canada
The main subject of discussion was what to do about declining participation
in Canadian elections - for example, the turnout of 59 per cent in the last
federal election, the 51 per cent in the recent B.C. provincial election, and
the abysmal 41 per cent last time out in Alberta.
It is good to know that our elections officials are concerned about this
problem. They play an important role in informing and educating voters on
election procedures and rules. But surely the primary responsibility for
remedying Canada's democracy deficit rests with others - with parents,
educators, the media and particularly our political parties, politicians and
Often it takes a crisis of some sort to create opportunities for reform. In
Britain, the recent scandalous abuse of expense accounts by members of the
House of Commons from all major parties has created precisely such a crisis
In order to bolster public confidence in its candidates for the soon-to-be-held
general election, the British Conservative Party has become willing to
experiment with democratic innovations.
Rather than choosing a candidate to succeed him by the conventional
method of a constituency nominating meeting in which only card-carrying
Conservative Party members can vote, the party has decided to experiment
with an \u201copen primary\u201d in which every voter in Totnes will be invited to help
choose its candidate for the next general election.
The Totnes Conservative Association drew up a short list of 11 potential
candidates which was then reduced to three on July 15. Starting last Monday,
ballot papers were mailed out to the 69,000 eligible voters in the
constituency. There was an all-candidate event Saturday where the three
candidates were to receive and answer questions from voters. Thursday, the
results of the Totnes \u201copen primary\u201d are to be announced.
\u201cThis is the first time any political party in Britain has sought the views of the
voters [on who should be the party's candidate] in such a direct way,\u201d said
Conservative Party Leader David Cameron.
To what extent will the voters of Totnes actually participate? Will that
participation give that candidate any advantage in terms of public confidence
and support over candidates of other parties nominated in the more
traditional way? And, will the primary stimulate greater interest and
participation in the general election itself?
And here in Canada, will any political party be willing to experiment with the
\u201copen primary\u201d to attract more Canadians into the process of putting
candidates' names on the ballot and thereby, one hopes, increasing public
interest in the campaign and election to follow?
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