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A better process needed, says council candidate Evans

September 24th, 2008 · 24 Comments

There’s a whole lot of scrapping still going on about Saturday’s vote, but something that people haven’t addressed yet was whether there was a fundamental problem with the process.

Catherine Evans, who ran for a council-slate spot, said that if had any advice to give anyone in future campaigns, it would be not to get into a competition process when there is no equitable access to the members’ list.

Evans, who has worked with the federal Liberal party for a long time and ran for a nomination in Vancouver-Quadra, said it’s standard in federal and provincial parties for people trying to get a nomination in a riding to have access to the members’ list.

“I didn’t expect it to be such a big issue before the race began but later I saw how uneven the ground was,” said Evans, who sounded pretty philosophical about a race that has been quite emotional for a lot of people.

“It’s an interesting problem and Vision’s going to have to deal with it.”

Obviously, as anyone who has followed any kind of politics at all knows, having access to members’ lists doesn’t stop people from forming alliances in a campaign to try to bolster each other.

But it did seem evident to all of us watching this race that the lack of access meant that people who did have control of parts of the membership list, like those who had signed up a lot of people during the mayoral campaign, had big bargaining chips that they could use. They would still have those bargaining chips to a certain extent, even if the general list were available, because they would presumably have some influence among those they signed up when it came to recommending who else to vote for. But they wouldn’t have had exclusive control of those names.

This, by the way, isn’t a problem unique to Vision. The Non-Partisan Association also declined to give out membership lists to those campaigning. But since its competition was so weak, with almost all positions being decided without a race, it didn’t become as big an issue.

The position both parties take when asked about this is that they don’t want to subject their members to endless rounds of solicitation by multiple candidates and they don’t want to violate their privacy. But it was obvious in the Vision race that a) lists of people’s names, numbers and so on were in wide circulation and b) it didn’t prevent mass bombardments. As I noted in a post on Saturday, one man said a friend of his had received 42 phone calls in the previous couple of weeks from various candidates.

Evans said her experience in campaigns at other levels is that, when people join a political party, it’s because they’re interested in politics and therefore aren’t as likely as the general public to object to getting political material in the mail. Some will object and ask to be removed from mailing lists, but in general, they want to know what’s going on.

It’s certainly something to think about because if there’s anything I heard throughout this campaign, it was a lot of bitterness about who had hooked up with who for the sake of their access to membership lists. Veteran campaigners tended to pooh-pooh some of this as the whining of naive rookies who thought the race was going to be run like a high-school election. But it did produce a bad taste in the mouths of some of the newer members to the party and that’s not to be discounted.

The slate formation and trading also did produce a lot of conspiracy theories about the motives of everyone involved, i.e. Raymond Louie is just re-running his mayoral campaign and trying to show he’s in control, Andrea Reimer is trying to play all sides of the fence, and so on. It’s a shame because Louie and Reimer’s coalition-building could also be seen as really positive moves to build bridges to the city’s many ethnic communities.

That kind of conspiracy theory is never going to die off completely. As I’ve noted here before, very few candidates in campaigns think they lose because of bad campaigns and personal qualities. There are always dark suspicions about how the race has been rigged in some way. But given that that’s the tendency in elections, anything that can reduce the number of avenues for conspiracy theories to go down can only be a good thing.

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