The last time the Party had a leadership contest it was hashed out over a few short days between a group of largely unknown folks (including yours truly) and two old school Liberals. In the end the process may not have been perfect but it accomplished a great deal of things in a short amount of time. It gave people a chance to be candidates who may not have normally had the opportunity. It created a media frenzy and grabbed public attention. And most importantly it engaged Liberals around the province through a teleconference in numbers that were quite unexpected. In the end it should have been more then simply a board decision, but it still was a fairly successful exercise. This time around I have some concerns.
First off, if you haven't read the actual rules for the contest pop over to the NL Liberal Party website and read them here. Most of the items are fairly standard fare and will work reasonably well as a leadership deciding process. There is one item that I find pretty unusual, and borderline offensive. Under Article 3 it states the following:
3.05 A nomination fee of $20,000.00 will be paid to the NLLP by each Candidate. The nomination fee is payable in three or four instalments depending upon when the Candidate files the LCNF. The first instalment of $5000.00 shall be paid at the time of filing the LCNF. The second instalment of $5,000.00 shall be paid by not later than 5:00 p.m. on the 5th day of July, 2013; if the Candidate does not file the LCNF until July 5, 2013, then $10,000.00 fee is payable upon filing. The second or third instalment, as the case may be, of $5000.00 shall be paid not later than 5:00 pm on the31st day of July and the final instalment of $5000.00 shall be paid not later than 5:00 pm on the 30th day of August, 2013.Yeah. $20,000. When I had first heard it I thought it was a joke. Well in a way I suppose it is. A pretty sad joke.
The Liberal Party is essentially saying that as leader your job is to help bail out the Party from your own personal finances. Or perhaps it's just a general statement that you need to be very wealthy to lead the Party. Whatever the rational I happen to think it is a very poor decision. Part of what made the previous leadership contest even remotely interesting to the general public was the fact that there were some candidates who were not know. This single bad decision will hurt the Party and it's attempt to drive media and public interest, and will eliminate some potentially great candidates.
Unfortunately this move seems to indicate that the Party still has trouble learning that people actually want to get involved in politics and government. They seem determined to prevent that involvement, at least at the highest level. And despite the "Renewal Tour" that didn't seem to do much except conclude a bunch of stuff everyone already knew, there are still no significant moves to engage the public, or actual card carrying Liberals in any real decision making. The one thing I saw and heard from the couple of Renewal meetings I attended was that Liberals want to see action toward change. I don't think this is what they were talking about.
The consolation here is that there will be good candidates come forward who can afford the bill. Being wealthy enough to afford the entry fee certainly does not include or preclude the ability to be a good leader. But unfortunately it does exclude a great number of potentially great leaders from even entering the race. In the end I have no doubt that whomever the successful candidate is that they will do their best to represent the Party leading up to the next election. I sincerely hope that by the deadline there will be quite a few contenders. Not just for the sake of democracy within the Liberal Party, but also for the sake of the Party's bank account.