The reports of fisticuffs and police keeping the peace at the Ottawa – Orleans nomination meeting over the weekend certainly have raised a few eyebrows and got a few tongues wagging over the weekend, but it’s a lot of sound and fury that signifies nothing. Let’s face it – even in well-run nomination races in nominal times, not every race goes smoothly.
It’s great when politics are passionate, because it means that people care. It’s great when there are packed nomination races where people in the community care about who their candidate is going to be. And after several election cycles where incumbents were protected under the rubric of maintaining election readiness in a minority situation, and when leaders availed themselves of appointment powers for one reason or another, we’ve seen commitments to running open nominations this time around, and pretty much across the board there have been problems and questionable decisions. Parties unused to running fully open nomination processes are showing growing pains, and it’s something that we need to keep in mind as the Ottawa – Orleans race is put into some more context.
In the wake of the last Liberal leadership contest, nearly all of the candidates have committed to running for nominations, but few of those who didn’t already have seats have been successful. While Karen McCrimmon won her nomination, George Takach did not, nor did Deborah Coyne, who made the questionable choice of running in a riding in a city where she doesn’t currently live, against an established candidate who had run there twice before with a lot of local support and with an impressive set of credentials on her own. Martha Hall Findlay announced that she wasn’t going to run in 2015, while Martin Cauchon has indicated he will run, but that nomination has not yet been held. And then there’s David Bertschi.
In the 2011 election, Bertschi couldn’t defeat Royal Galipeau, who isn’t exactly the most coherent of MPs to speak to. (I can’t be the only one who’s had a rambling and inscrutable conversation with him). Bertschi then launched on a doomed long-shot leadership campaign, not simply to position himself within the party for future considerations, but in the sincere belief that he could beat Justin Trudeau. And let’s face it – Bertschi lacked the charisma to outshine or out-speak Trudeau, and he lacked the ability to distil any kind of messaging, as he touted his “24-point plan” for one thing or another (never mind that leadership contests are not the place to be making policy as that is the domain of the grassroots membership – not the leader). Bertschi’s performance ranked toward the bottom in every debate, which was not a great indication of upward mobility in the race.
Bertschi dropped out before the final ballot, but in the process, ran up over $150,000 in campaign debt, despite the contest having a debt ceiling of $75,000 for candidates. This debt figure is an important note, because even if Bertschi had a repayment plan ongoing, the fact that he broke the rules was always going to be a problem considering that the Liberals have to be seen to be extra scrupulous in their following the rules considering the beating they’ve taken on the ethics files in previous elections.
That Bertschi was denied a green light by the party is now the subject of conspiracy theory by him and his supporters. The claim that he sold more memberships than retired General Andrew Leslie has not been confirmed, but it’s also not necessarily indicative that he was in the lead. Nor is it proof that the party closed ranks in order to protect Leslie, even if he was already an advisor to the leader and was presumed to be the preferred candidate.
“Why not let them run the open contest if Leslie was confident?” is often the question that those accusing the Liberals of running a rigged contest will ask, but that neglects the fact that Bertschi was denied a green light for a reason – he broke debt rules in the leadership, the party was not satisfied with his repayment to date, and he didn’t disclose a libel lawsuit to an American gossip website, no matter that he had abandoned the action. In an age where all candidates are being subject to the Google treatment by opponents and the media, failure to disclose is an issue that would-be candidates cannot ignore, especially as the party will be forced to respond if these issues come to light. For the party to let him run regardless of these facts would have been seen as irresponsible on a larger scale, because it would have implied that they were easing up on the rules in cases where people made a big fuss – and Bertschi has been making a fuss.
So where does the rest of the unrest come from? Generally it’s a combination of ego and sore-loserism, and there are always true believers for everyone who decides to run. Some of them even believe more than the candidates themselves. A wise young woman recently said, “Running for office is a full-time exercise in blowing smoke up one’s own ass, and requires the kind of [mental] athleticism that would make such an activity possible. You need a sense of self-worth large enough to convince yourself that you alone are the best candidate to represent your community.” Add another order of magnitude for a leadership candidate. Bertschi has ego to spare.
It’s the sore-loserism that becomes the more troublesome aspect. Bertschi has recently hinted that he’s planning on suing the party for libel, just as Christine Innes has pursued a defamation suit against the party after she was denied the green light in Toronto Centre. It’s at this point that ego overtakes the good of the party – the party that they claimed to want to fight for. It makes one question their fitness to stand for nomination and proves the point about being denied the green light in the first place.
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