With the NDP set to discuss the rules for its upcoming leadership campaign, let's take a quick look at a few of the basic issues involved, along with the answers which I'd think would best serve the goal of developing into a sustainable progressive governing party.
At the moment, there seems to be plenty of work being done to divine the intentions in Jack Layton's final public letter suggesting a similar time frame to that used the 2003 race. But I'd think the most important proposal is the one being mooted by Raoul Gebert.
Simply put, the race should be set up to provide as much time as possible for membership sales - both to permit candidates based in growth regions for the party plenty of time to bring in new members, and to ensure as much public attention for the race as possible before the cutoff date. And as long as the race allows for that, it shouldn't make too much difference whether a convention is held in late January (based on the 2003 date) or in the spring (based on the length of the 2003 campaign).
With stories circulating about how several of the Libs' 2006 leadership contenders still have plenty of leadership campaign debt left to repay, the NDP will want to make sure not to saddle itself with the same type of long-term trouble. But fortunately, there would seem to be a couple of relatively simple ways to avoid the problem.
For one, the entry fee should be set at a level which will ensure a manageable number of candidates. Which isn't to say that I'd back Ian Capstick's "extraordinarily high" proposal (though it's not clear whether the proposed million dollars refers to the entry fee or overall fund-raising), but at the very least a candidate should be able to raise a six-figure entry fee as the minimum standard to enter the race.
Once a candidate meets that standard, though, the ground rules should serve to encourage volunteer organization and innovative recruitment methods, rather than allowing fund-raising alone to play an unduly large part in limiting the range of choices. So my inclination would be to see spending limited to something close to the half-million dollar limit applied in 2003. In addition to levelling the playing field, that would have the side benefit of limiting the amount of debt the candidates accumulate, allowing the party to focus on its own fund-raising in the years to come rather than having to funnel donations toward a past leadership race.
There's been plenty of talk of set-asides - either for affiliated groups as in 2003, or for Quebec MPs or members based on their new strength within the party. But as far as I'm concerned, one of the very purposes of the leadership race is to build a base for future growth by determining which groups have the strongest interest in the NDP's future (as measured by their ability to sign up members).
So my initial inclination would be toward a pure OMOV system with no set-asides. And as long as the candidates are onside with the timelines and rules for membership sales, there shouldn't be any excuses for any group which sees itself as lacking representation at the convention.
[Edit: fixed wording.]