Socialist International
2 min

How to protect an incumbent

There has been a lot of talk lately about the protections for incumbents that certain parties are offering. What this means is that MPs who got elected in the last election might otherwise face a nomination challenge in their ridings, and if a challenger were successful, then they would be the ones facing election instead.

In an unstable minority situation like we’re in now, a lot of sitting MPs are uncomfortable with the idea of having to not only be in Ottawa as much as possible in the event of a confidence vote, but also be in their ridings as much as they can in order to show the flag, and be visible and be responsive to their constituents, but that they might also have to face a nomination challenge in what is already a stressful environment. This is compounded even more when an MP is from a distant riding like Vancouver, where the long travel times are incredibly taxing at the best of times.

Two parties have recently adopted measures to give some MPs a bit of a break in that regard. The decision taken by the Liberals is to say to incumbents that if their riding associations have more than four hundred members, and if forty of those members contribute to the “Victory Fund,” then that MP will be considered safe from nomination challenges. The Victory Fund is a fundraising initiative that sees contributors donate a minimum of $10 per month to the party, half of which goes to the federal coffers, the other to the riding association. The upside of this system is that it keeps the MPs in touch with the party members in their ridings, and encourages them to keep people signed up and engaged. One MP recently told the Hill Times that her riding memberships were in good order, because she had fought such a hard nomination challenge in the first place that she made sure to keep them in good shape, and that’s probably a good attitude to have.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, had a new set of “temporary rules” handed down by their national council which says that incumbents will only face a nomination challenge if two-thirds of their riding association members call for one. This means that if anyone wants to challenge an incumbent, they are really going to have to sign up a whole lot of new members in order to even have a shot. This week’s Hill Times talked to someone who had been interested in challenging controversial Calgary MP Rob Anders, but in the face of these rules, doesn’t think she’ll be able to. And if any MP knows that they might face a challenge, it might encourage them to sign up new members of their own in order keep their numbers over the two-third threshold.

So does that make these incumbent protections a good thing? The NDP doesn’t think so – their policy is not to protect any incumbent, and that every candidate must win their nomination before an election.

But the question does beg to be asked – are these protections bad for democracy, or do the mechanisms that are put into place assuage that test because they encourage party membership?