Monday, December 15, 2014

Selinger and leadership rules II

I’m going to be honest.  Even as I wrote last week’s post, I was unsure about the second part.  I stand by my assertion that Brian Palister’s call for an immediate election is an opportunistic move not in keeping with parliamentary tradition, but as for Curtis Nordman’s resolution calling for any leadership candidates to step down from their portfolio while they run…

          The issue is that this is unprecendented.  Truly.  As far as I know, there has never been a situation quite like this, where a sitting first minister calls a leadership contest while he/she is still in office.  Leadership reviews have happened (the case of Ralph Klein, for example), but not full on leadership contests. 

          Here’s what typically happens when a party leader is replaced.

          Far and away the most common thing is for the party leader, in opposition or not, to announce they are retiring, but that they will stay on until a new leader is chosen.  See for instance Gary Doer, Hugh McFayden.  Often this happens after an electoral defeat.

          Less common is for the leader to step down altogether, creating a vacuum which requires an interim leader until a leadership contest is held.  See for instance Stéphane Dion, Alison Redford.

          Occasionally, a leader will face an unsatisfied caucus or party, and will have to go through a leadership review, even if they don’t want to.  If they receive less than a set amount of votes, they are forced out as leader.  Typically it’s 50%, but leaders themselves tend to set the bar higher.  No one wants to rule with a bare minimum of support. 

          Sometimes party leaders will even call a leadership review on purpose to ensure they have the favour of their party.  Recently, Alberta opposition leader Danielle Smith called a leadership vote and announced she would resign if she got less than 77% (the party basically told her not to worry about it).  This is probably what a lot of people expected Greg Selinger to do.

          I can’t think of another example where a sitting leader, in opposition or in power, skipped the leadership vote and went straight to a leadership contest.

          It makes things messy.  People aren’t wrong to point out that the way the province will be governed will be affected.  The government won’t grind to a halt.  But major policy direction will be missing.  Things will continue moving forward, but in a routine way.  Without major direction to the contrary, government departments favour the status quo.  It won’t be a disaster by any means, but it also won’t be terrific for the government of Manitoba to have the premier and several cabinet ministers distracted for several months.

          Long story short, Nordman’s resolution is not without merit, although I suspect he put it forward because he opposes Selinger’s leadership.  It’s uncharted territory, though, so the rules of how parties and parliament interact aren’t much help here.  I won’t say the NDP executive was wrong to allow Selinger to stay on as premier while he runs for his own job, but it sets an interesting precedent.  At least from a political science point of view.        


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