Rob Anders loses: The system works?

Searching for the meaning of Calgary-Signal Hill

The tumultuous reign of Rob Anders over a Conservative nomination for a portion of Alberta apparently ended last night, presuming Anders does not now seek to win a nomination in some other portion of Alberta. At the very least, the Conservative candidate of record for Calgary-West for each of the last six elections will not be the Conservative candidate in Calgary-Signal Hill in 2015; that honour now going to Ron Liepert.

Anders’s particular and peculiar political career and his history with nomination challenges made last night’s vote an object of some fascination, but the real history might now be this: Anders would seem to be the first incumbent MP in nearly nine years to lose his or her party’s nomination in such fashion. Seemingly not since Bev Desjarlais, the NDP MP for Churchill, was defeated by a young upstart named Niki Ashton in 2005 has an incumbent been so openly dumped. (I suppose we might allow for the possibility that incumbents who might’ve lost a nomination contest decided to retire before such a possibility was tested.) Desjarlais, a rare New Democrat who did not support same-sex marriage, subsequently quit the NDP caucus and ran as an independent in the 2006 election, finishing third as the Liberals won the riding. (Ashton would win it back for the New Democrats in 2008.)

The ways by which individuals become a party’s chosen candidate are notoriously curious—there is a good chapter on this in Tragedy in the Commons, the book from the co-founders of Samara that is to be released on Tuesday. And a new season of nomination skirmishes and the looming spectre of the Reform Act has provided fresh fodder for a discussion about how the names on the ballot get there in the first place. In the case of Calgary-Signal Hill, the matter culminated in a debate that wasn’t open to the media and a vote that will apparently remain a mystery beyond the name of the winner (probably at this point we should not settle for not knowing the final tally of a vote).

We can argue around the edges of what precisely an “open nomination” should mean in practice and how nominations should be conducted in general, but, in theory, we might all agree on a system whereby each general election is preceded by some 1,430 nomination contests for the major parties (338 for each of the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats and Greens, plus, at least so long as they continue to exist, 78 for the Bloc Québécois). It only stands to reason that somewhere in there, even if only every so often, an incumbent MP will lose the opportunity to represent his or her party. In a truly democratic system, it simply can’t be expected that the 300 or so MPs who seek re-election each cycle will, even with the advantage of incumbency, maintain a perfect record of maintaining nominations. Indeed, the only proof of an open system might be the periodic defeat of an incumbent.

In that way maybe, particularly if you are a Conservative this morning looking for a positive and neutral spin on last night’s events, the victory of Liepert might be said to prove that democracy exists—at least presuming that Anders can’t make a solid case that the process was unfair to him. In which case, we are back to debating precisely how our political sausage is and should be made.

Here, for now, is Deepak Obhrai observing that the grassroots membership has been heard. As Liepert himself put it last night, “The feeling in this riding was that it was time that we had an open, democratic nomination. Certainly the riding residents felt that way and they expressed their views. This is democracy.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.