DELEGATED CONVENTIONS: REPLACING EXILARATION WITH BOREDOM?

Two weeks
ago, delegates to the P.C. Convention and those listening in, via radio and
television, got to experience their first delegated leadership convention in 20
years. Some had previously participated in one or more. They likely took for
granted Steve Kent’s move to Paul Davis following the first ballot results. Not
so the newbies who seemed quite surprised by the drama that unfolded. For them,
it seemed, shifting loyalties produced a range of emotions.

Welcome to
the delegated convention!

Imagine
there were five or six contenders or more; think the surprise, the sense of
excitement, disappointment, as hopes are dashed and promises once assured are
replaced with those to higher placed and more likely successful contenders.
Think of the sense of fear when the votes of a candidate who is dropped are up
for grabs.  Will candidate X ‘release’ his
delegates? Will he deliver his (sic) delegates to another contender, as did
Steve Kent asked his supporters? How many will follow? (In case you were
wondering, Kent’s arrival on the platform to thank his delegates and encourage
their support of Davis constituted a breakdown in the protocol of Convention
management.)

As the day
wears on you want it all to be over; but you also want your candidate to win. After
weeks of meetings, nights that go into days, hours of being lobbied by friends
and complete strangers, after waving placards, and saying the most ridiculous
things you have ever said in your whole life, the count is announced….followed
by the joy of victory or, in as is often the case, the disappointment of what
you think is a lost opportunity. Even if the Chief Returning Officer has
screwed up, it’s an experience that will be remembered.  It is not merely an adrenalin rush for
political junkies; it is an important political event, a life experience.

How could
you possibly not love a delegated convention!

But the last
Tory Convention may be the end of an era.

The Liberal
Party has embraced the direct vote concept which is easily facilitated by new
technology.  The event that gave rise to
Dwight Ball’s election was deemed a success having attracted over 20,000
voters.

The
‘truncated’ delegated process that featured Frank Coleman and Bill Barry
captured little attention and few attendees to district selection meetings.

After Bill
Barry pulled out of the race and Frank Coleman walked away, I suggested in a
Post that the P.C. Party might want to hold the Convention anyway, as an AGM,
and seek the approval necessary for a direct vote. 

Who can argue
with ideas that promote and accommodate inclusiveness?    The
Party might actually make contact with the very people from whom it is
disconnected; though the current problems of the Party speak less to process than
to leadership.

I had
come to the conclusion that social changes had made such political meetings
passe, that, if people wanted to embrace participatory democracy via the
internet, they ought to be accommodated.  Who would not be concerned about the
behaviour of an overbearing Danny Williams and the corruption of a process in
which the Caucus played a lead role?

There is
nothing wrong with sober second thought and, accordingly, I would make two observations:

1.     
Recent
reports of Liberal candidate nomination meetings which have attracted crowds,
in excess of 2000 (Port de Grave) suggest poor attendance at Tory delegate
selection meetings may relate entirely to the Party’s poor current standings
and for no other reason.  When the Tory
tide returns, if it is not permanently injured by the unwise sanction of
Muskrat Falls, such meetings, again, will be well attended.  At 24% in the Polls, the figure is clear
evidence the public is in no mood to be associated with the Tories right now.
2.     
Delegated
Conventions, like many other practices that may seem arcane and old-fashioned, serve a specific
function beyond facilitating the election of a leader; one who must have the
support of a majority of delegates. Arguably, they allow the better talents to be exposed. Real people get close to the real candidates.
 That is important. Often delegates already
have some familiarity with the candidates on a personal level. The interaction,
as well as the experiences shared with fellow delegates, becomes an integral
part of the assessment. In short, Delegated Conventions provide opportunities to
look beneath the ‘gloss’ of the contenders; one not available to the larger
body politic.  That evaluation may be far
more challenging via Twitter, Facebook or even T.V. and radio. If a candidate
communicates well, a key requirement to his future success, it is still no
guarantee that he possesses energy, intellect, attitude or policy skills. 
Alternatively,
no one can say that Dwight Ball won the Liberal Leadership because he is imbued
with ‘slick’.  Fears that future Premiers
will all look like the “Man from Glad”, if Delegated Conventions disappear, are
likely unwarranted.

Of course, winners
of delegated conventions do more than impress a few hundred delegates up
close.   Don’t forget the campaign teams,
solid organization, marketing, money and the pre-vote speeches.  I cannot help but think that John Ottenheimer’s
poorly crafted final address to the delegates possibly robbed him of the two
votes he needed to go over the top. But he is not the first to have forgotten
the importance of making a good last impression.

The direct vote process will still provide an opportunity for candidate appraisal but it won’t be up close and the process will be far more scripted than than what is often evident on a convention floor. Will we be left only ask, then, why it took the computer 20 minutes to
process the delegates’ second or third choices which ought to have taken a
nanosecond.
Of course, no
system will work well if it has been robbed of integrity.

Democracy is
an incredible process and not just because it is often unpredictable and
messy.  Allowed to work, it can
accommodate a range of voting systems that are effective, efficient; some are downright exhilarating. 

While never
forgetting that its purpose is to elect a viable leader, we will miss the
wheeling and dealing, the switching of loyalties, the surprises, the heartache
and the other emotions created by the drama.

As much as we
all love media, including the internet, none can create a memory like a
delegated convention. I fear this part of the democratic process is about to become far more boring. 

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.

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