As the dust settled after the last provincial election, one thing became crystal clear – Nova Scotians had checked out.
The 2017 election represented the lowest voter turnout in history. Less than 54 per cent of registered voters cast a ballot; and this stain on our democratic process is for all political parties to wear.
Since launching my campaign for the Progressive Conservative Party Leadership, I’ve had the honour of speaking with PC Party members from communities across the province. Some of them are supporters of mine, some others are leaning in a different direction, but the majority are telling me that if we are going to get more Nova Scotians engaged in our political system – the change needs to start with Party structure and how the views of members are respected and acknowledged.
I don’t believe that the concerns these PC Party members raise are unique to our Party, I think that each of the political parties that have representation in the provincial Legislature need to take a hard look at their internal processes.
How welcoming are we? How do we seek out input and feedback from members? And how do we amplify their voices?
When it comes to leadership selection process for a political party, there are three issues that we need to prioritize: how much of our members’ money will be spent; how long is the party going to wait for a new leader; and will they have a meaningful voice in the process.
Every member of a political party should have a direct say in who they believe should take on the leadership role. It is long past time to move to the one-member, one-vote system. Honestly? I’m surprised we’re even having this discussion in 2017 in Nova Scotia, the birthplace of Canadian democracy.
Delegated conventions usurp the diversity of opinions and perspectives within any Party. Every Nova Scotian who has invested in a membership with one of our provincial parties should be given the opportunity to express their opinion on who should carry their banner into the next general election. Full stop.
It’s also worthwhile to address the concerns people raise around the time allotted to leadership campaigns. Lengthy campaigns not only kill any momentum a party could have, but there are significant cost implications. Nova Scotians who hand over money to belong to any political party hold the rightful expectation that the Party make efficient use of their contribution and preserve as much as possible for the general election. Resources must be economized. Irrespective of the party, or who the leader is, they should have first demonstrated their fiscal prudence with their members' own money.
Lastly, members of any political party deserve to have a group of diverse candidates with varied perspectives, backgrounds and expertise. That can’t happen unless we level the playing field and establish an environment that embraces rules of inclusivity.
It’s literally up to us; if we want to encourage more leaders to step up and enter political life, we need to stop putting up obstacles at every corner. And one of those obstacles is leadership campaign budget limits.
Let’s get real here. No leadership candidate, no matter the party, needs to spend more than $250,000 on a campaign (the cap in the 2006 PC leadership race was this amount). Preferably we’d look at spending even less. With the vast communications platforms at our fingertips, giving us a greater ability than ever to reach out to membership, there is no need to carelessly spend money. Fundraising rules should of course follow the existing Elections Nova Scotia rules, but also work to respect donors’ limited resources.
Yes, this pushes a campaign to be innovative, to be creative, and to be nimble and flexible – all of which are characteristics reflective of strong and effective leadership.
I whole-heartedly believe that our political parties must adopt, and fully embrace, modern means with progressive and all-encompassing methods in choosing the leaders of tomorrow. This will further our collective commitment to democracy in our Province, and set the tone for general elections to come.
Last election, 46 per cent of us decided to stay home on Election Day. This is jarring. Think about it; almost half of us decided not to have a say in the future direction of our province.
We need to make Nova Scotians care again. We need them to believe that their voices do matter, that their ideas can translate into solutions, that without them we will never prosper.
I’ve proverbially put my stake in the ground on this very message as I embark on my campaign to become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia. And it is the PC Party that will be first up to bat in walking the talk on changing the narrative on politics as usual.
In setting the stage for our Convention, I hope we show our political counterparts how it’s done.