Open nominations — unless there’s not.
That’s the message from the leader who promised an end to internal bickering, and a new dawn for open and free nominations, amid a week of internal party bickering and accusations that the nomination process isn’t as open as its made to seem.
Amid a war of words over the terminated Christine Innes’ candidacy in the Trinity—Spadina by-election, the Liberal Party has maintained that they have done nothing wrong. The party has maintained that Innes and her husband were bullying local activists.
Yet there may be more to the story.
I’ve been provided the form that every Liberal by-election candidate is asked to sign before their candidacy can be approved. In signing that form, candidates agree that, in 2015, they will only run in the “successor” of the current riding, as determined by the National Campaign Co-Chairs.
According to a letter sent to Innes, from Ontario organizer David MacNaughton, “A similar request was made to the Liberal candidates in the other by-election ridings taking place this spring, that is, that they agree in advance where they will win in the general election.”
As Innes characterizes the conversation in an email to supporters: “The party leadership had previously told me they would only approve my candidacy for the by-election in Trinity Spadina if I agreed in writing prior to the by-election to run in a pre-assigned riding that would be determined by the Leader of the Party’s unelected backroom advisers.”
The form appears to be a clear indication that the party won’t allow a challenge to incumbent Chrystia Freeland in the new riding of University—Rosedale.
Under the federal riding redistribution, Trinity—Spadina takes on a very new character, and the new name. It’s Southern half will become Spadina—Fort York, which includes much of the waterfront and Chinatown, and it stretches Eastward, cannibalizing the Northern part of Toronto—Centre.
It’s all but a sure thing that Toronto—Centre incumbent Chrystia Freeland will be moving to the new University—Rosedale riding, which promises to be a slam dunk for any Liberal. Spadina—Fort York, meanwhile, will likely go NDP. The re-cut Toronto—Centre riding, with the NDP-leaning areas like Regent Park, is a toss-up.
So what’s at play, here?
Well Christine Innes and her ex-MP husband Tony Ianno live in the Annex, and its where their “machine” is located. Under the redistribution, their neighbourhood will be squarely in the University—Rosedale riding.
The form that Innes was requested to sign undoubtedly boxes her in. While her chances in Trinity—Spadina are up in the air, running would prevent her from seeking the 2015 nomination in her home riding, where she would almost undoubtedly win if she became the candidate. What’s more is that it could force her to run in a riding — even if she was the sitting MP, at that point — that she would almost certainly lose.
What makes the situation all the more interesting is that one source involved in the Toronto Liberal Party says that the national party already has a (“parachute”) candidate in mind for Toronto—Centre — a banking executive. Further, they say, given Innes and her husband’s numerous campaigns in the riding, they hold a wealth of volunteers and loyal supporters. In a hypothetical nomination matchup between Innes and Freeland, there is a very strong chance that Innes would win.
That may be the origin of the accusation that Innes was “bullying” young Liberals in the riding. But what the Party considers intimidation, another might consider it getting one’s ducks in a row for an eventual political fight — one fight the party headed off by disqualifying her candidacy outright.
So while the form that Innes was required to sign is curious, what is even curiouser is how unprecedented it is.
A source in the NDP was quite sure that no such rule existed on their books, while a Conservative Party source confirmed that their party had established rules ensuring that any MP elected via by-election need not run in a nomination contest again in advance of 2015.
“Freezing” a candidate’s choice in riding is a strange act.
This ability is also not mentioned anywhere in the party’s nomination rules.
Under the redistribution rules, however, the National Campaign Co-chairs “have the authority to enact such directives as he/she or they may consider to be required to conduct either the by-election or general election effectively on the basis of the Component Electoral District boundaries.” Expanding that to allow the party to dictate a candidate’s future riding appears to be a direct contradiction of the party’s pledge of open nominations.
A Liberal spokesperson didn’t comment directly on Innes’ candidacy, but did say that “open nominations allow local community members, and not the Leader, to choose the candidate.”
Kyle Harrietha, the hopeful Liberal nominee in Fort MacMurray—Athabasca, confirmed to me that he was also required to sign that form.
The whole process have raised the hackles of some Liberals, including the mystifying political caricature of Zach Paikin who withdrew his fledgling candidacy for a Hamilton-area riding.
“I cannot, in good conscience, campaign to be a part of a team of candidates if others seeking to join that team are prevented from doing so if their ideas or ambitions run contrary to the party leader’s interest,” Paikin wrote.
It’s not clear what Innes’ next move will be.
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