Dump the Leader?

A week and a half ago, there were reports that something of a mutiny was afoot in the BC Liberal caucus with cabinet members and MLAs alike from the governing Liberals calling for the Premier Christy Clark, to resign. This in light of the scandal which emerged involving the leak of memos which put forth a strategy to woo the vote of British Columbians of certain ethnicities.

This week however, it would appear that the premier has managed to quell any public dissent from her caucus. But lets, for a moment, consider the possibility of ousting a sitting premier.

First, it doesn’t happen often as it is fairly difficult to do [1]. If you read my post on leadership conventions, then you will know that with the advent of party leadership conventions, caucuses (groups of representatives belonging to a political party who sit in a legislative body) lost influence and power over the fate of the party leader, having to rely on the general party membership to elect (or remove) a leader [2].

A party leader will face periodic leadership reviews as directed by their party’s constitution (a framework which governs the party’s actions and defines its principles and values)[3]. During these leadership reviews, a leader who, in the opinion of party membership, has done a poor job leading the party (failing to form a government, over staying their welcome, or being bogged down in scandal, for example) may be removed as leader, and a leadership race is convened.

As for getting rid of a sitting prime minister or premier, it is difficult to do because there are considerations other than political ones. It would surely result in some amount of uncertainty in the government and therefore either the country or the province.

Probably one of the most notorious examples of trying to remove a party leader is Paul Martin’s attempt to force Jean Chrétien out of office, who in the end, was able to leave on his own terms.

In Australia, Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as prime minister in what was considered a political coup.

And John Diefenbaker as prime minister faced a fractious, impertinent cabinet in the early 1960s which led to the Conservative party losing the election of 1963 to Lester Pearson’s Liberals. A leadership convention was forced upon him in 1967 while in Opposition. He lost and was replaced by Robert Stanfield [4].

Given the precarious position that the BC Liberals are in with an election expected May 14th (subject, of course, to the Lieutenant Governor’s discretion), it would not be in the BC Grit’s best interest to can their leader. On the other hand, to force the premier to take the fall could save them from the potential electoral retribution the voters may choose to inflict. Still, they would have to appoint an interim leader, possibly the deputy premier, which would provide all sorts of ammunition to the opposition parties and add fuel to an ever growing fire.

Sources

[1] Stewart, D., & Koene, M. (2003). Canadian parties in the new century. In J. Brodie & L. Trimble (Eds.), Reinventing Canada: Politics of the 21st centuryToronto: Pearson Education Canada Inc.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cross, W. & Young, L. (2006, June). Are canadian political parties empty vessels? membership, engagement and policy capacity. IRPP Choices , 12(4), Retrieved from http://www.irpp.org/choices/archive/vol12no4.pdf

[4] Smith, D. (2000). Diefenbaker, john george,. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Retrieved from http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=7990

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