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Opinion: Hurry up with the party leadership races

The Free Press Editor Scott Tibballs shakes a fist at the nebulous and slow leadership process in Canadian politics

Canada has a problem with its politics.

The amount of time political parties spend deliberating over who they will present to voters as their leader is exhaustingly pointless and wasteful.

A few examples: Andrew Wilkinson resigned as leader of the B.C. Liberal Party after the last election in October 2020, yet new leader Kevin Falcon didn’t get crowned until February 2022 – a 15-month span of an interim leader.

Meanwhile the Conservative Party leadership race is ongoing, following Erin O’Toole’s removal in February this year. That race doesn’t end until September, leaving the party without an actual leader for well over six months.

And this isn’t counting leadership races to replace leaders that are still serving but will be stepping down – like Jason Kenney in Alberta. He’s been outgoing since mid-May when he won a leadership review but decided to spit the dummy anyway, but the United Conservatives wont be organised under a new leader until October.

Or then there’s the B.C. NDP. In mid-July John Horgan said he’d be stepping down after the party picked a replacement, but that doesn’t happen until December – giving B.C. almost six months of a leader with a foot out the door while the NDP pretends it hasn’t already anointed David Eby.

All of these races give the media plenty of red meat to consume, and party members lots of time to talk about their differences – but to those on the outside looking in, it’s all a bunch of self-indulgent navel-gazing that does little to add to the political discourse. Even worse when the party doing the soul-searching is in government.

Parties without a leader (either formally or in intent) can do or say little that doesn’t come with a silent asterisk attached, marking their positions, statements and collective will as subject to change. The political class love it – both within the party talking about itself, and without, among those who would tear them down and enjoy the dirt being dug up internally.

But really all it does is leave a party – be it government or opposition – away from the debate for too long.

Leadership races have to happen, but they need to happen faster.

Compared to Canada, the leadership race in the United Kingdom is progressing at a break-neck speed, with a new Conservative Party leader (and Prime Minister) expected to be known by September after Boris Johnson fired off a starting gun back at the start of July – yielding a three-month period for all the Tories to sort themselves out.

Or maybe even try the old Australian model, which moved so fast that even 24-7 news media coverage couldn’t keep up, with political blood spilled and drying in the space of hours. Leadership races had single dates on the calendar, and usually came as ambushes.

The model of success in the Canadian system is likely somewhere in between what exists now, and the brutal Australian revolving door of leadership – but it does need to be faster, if anything just for the sake of getting on with it and focusing on what’s important, and doing away with the near American-style political anguishing over the hearts and souls of parties.

Governing parties taking their time picking leaders are abdicating their responsibility to focus on governing. Opposition parties doing it are distracted from holding the government to account.

There are plenty of arguments for a slow and considered process, and it is worth taking the time to hear them out – but in the end, it needs to be remembered that people with political ambitions are everywhere.

When a leader steps aside willingly or unwillingly, they always reveal a line of hopeful aspirants waiting to take their place. Do we need to talk about every single one of them?

If they are not to the electorates liking, the party that did the choosing will know soon enough.

-Scott Tibballs is the impatient editor of The Free Press.

READ MORE: Opinion: Vote 1, democracy sausage for Canada
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