How Democracy Falls

(A followup after the leadership review results is over here.

Some people reading this will be aware of the leadership review for Jason Kenney, currently premier of Alberta and leader of the United Convervative Party in the province. This situation underscores how our democratic institutions have been failing. Even with the result of the leadership review vote due to be announced within the next few hours, it’s clear that this will not be the end of the matter, no matter what the result is.

The problem as I see it is that what appears to be a fringe element of the party led by the person who lost the original leadership election to Mr. Kenney is hell bent on defeating their perceived enemy at all costs, no matter the consequences. Indeed, reports quote sources as saying that even if the result is a landslide in Mr. Kenney’s favour, they will not accept the results. Indeed, it seems from their statements that any result that does not match with their desired outcome is untrustworthy and not to be accepted. Yet they’ll happily accept that the same process is completely trustworthy if they get the result they want. (Does that sound familiar at all? Feels like a re-run of some big democratic event from a year or so ago, but I can’t quite put my finger on it….)

Anyway, they can’t have it both ways. Either the process is trustworthy and the results are to be trusted and accepted, or the process is untrustworthy and the results are not to be trusted or accepted. It’s the same process either way. You can’t cherry pick the votes that go your way as the only trustworthy ones. At least not if you want to claim that you truly believe in the democratic will of the people being honoured.

Here’s the thing, though. Mr. Kenney has said he will accept the result of the vote. The party constitution (or rules or whatever it’s called) requires 50% plus one to pass the review. He has said he will say on if he gets 50% plus one, as he is allowed to do. He has said he expects everyone to accept the results and stop the infighting no matter which way they go. His opponents, however, seem to only be using this process as a tool to stage a coup. They’ll crow about how they won if it goes their way, but if not, they’ll crow about how it was rigged. And, to make matters worse, the mainstream media will continue to amplify their message and largely ignore or deride Kenny’s as they have been doing all along. After all, confict makes for better news, doesn’t it?

So here’s how I see things going. There are exactly two possibilities.

Kenney wins. If Kenney wins, the infighting will continue. I don’t like meme images, but if I did, I would insert one that has a caption along the lines of “infighting intensifies”. Kenney will attempt to reconcile the party, which will fail. He will likely have to kick the more disruptive members out of caucus because there’s now way to govern otherwise. He will attempt to hold on until the next regularly scheduled election and put his actual track record up against the opposition parties in the general election. I give it no better than even odds that he isn’t forced out by some other means, likely extremely shady and probably involving a frame job, within months following the review.

Kenney loses. In this case, Kenney will step aside and there will be a party leadership election. He may stay on as leader until the results of the leadership election are known. You would think that would be acceptable for his opponents since they would be getting what they want, but if it chooses this path, they will scream about him being antidemocratic by staying on while the multi-month leadership election takes place. I doubt Kenney will stand for re-election, though as I understand it, he would have the right to do so. Then, regardless of the outcome of the leadership election, the rebellious element of the party will not be united. Currently, they’re united with the goal of getting Kenney out, but beyond that, they don’t have much in common at all. The party will continue to be anything but united, and will have a very high probability of losing the next election, or at least being knocked down to minority status. (There are allegations that a vast number of new memberships were purchased with the specific goal of achieving just this result, but those haven’t been proven. Even if true, those members are probably going to be continuing to destabilize from within rather than let things settle down.)

Anyway, I expect Kenney to win the leadership review by a relatively small margin, but enough that it’s unlikely a counting error. Then, his oponents will grouse and gripe in the media for a short time and demand his resignation on various grounds, including not having met the “threshold” for continuing (he only needs 50% plus one according to the rules remember so this will all be self-serving nonsense). Then, eventually, law suits will be filed. The courts will not be amused. Nor will anyone else. Odds are they will be dismissed with prejudice after a great deal of legal brangling. Regardless of all of that, Kenney will eventually be forced to resign if there is to be any chance at actually governing or winning the next election.

On the other hand, if he loses, he has said he will step aside and we can skip all the mess in the previous paragraph. However, I don’t think his opponents have as much real support as they think they do which is why I think he will eke out a win.

The subsequent leadership election is going to be unpleasant as candidates from three camps vie for leadership: the rebels, the status quo-ers, and various “time for a change” new guys.

All of this shows neatly how a democratic system can fall. It usually takes a run of this type of behaviour to cause a fall, but if it doesn’t fall apart completely on its own, eventually someone with the charisma and resources will come along and game the chaos to their own benefit. (See many cases in history, including Julius (and, due to existence failure of the former, Augustus) a couple thousand years ago

I should be clear that this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to keep our democratic systems functioning. Instead, we need to be wary of this sort of trap, which has become all too much easier to cause with the advent of algorithmic (anti)social media and such things as cancel culture.

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