Simcoe-Grey for the Simcoe-Greyvians!

Andrew Coyne on why Stephen Harper shouldn’t be the one who decides whether Helena Guergis runs again

I’m with the  burghers of Simcoe-Grey on this: it’s up to the riding association to decide whether Helena Guergis should remain as their candidate, not party central command.

The way we choose riding nominees is one of many outstanding weaknesses in Canadian politics. On the one hand, it is unconscionable that candidates should be obliged to get the party leader to sign their nomination papers before they can stand for office. It’s a direct affront to local democracy.

On the other hand, well, local democracy is a joke. Nomination races are too often decided by busloads of instant members and other abuses, the sort of 19th century shiv-and-whiskey politics that is unique to Canada among the advanced democracies.

We’d get better candidates, and better races, if being an MP meant something — that is, if they were not so tightly controlled by the leader’s office. But the first step on cracking the leaders’ iron grip is for riding associations to stand up for themselves.

MPs with strong riding associations are better placed to challenge the leadership. In particular, a cleaner, more legitimate process for choosing candidates would give MPs the democratic standing, as legitimate representatives of the membership in their ridings, to take back the process of leadership selection — the key to righting the balance of power between caucus and leader.

In a proper Westminster system, the leader is selected by the members of the Parliamentary caucus. In our run-down, degraded version of Westminster, the leader picks the caucus.