Updated: April 15th, 2014 11:58 am EST
Everyone has been abuzz with the news that Conservative incumbent Rob Anders lost his nomination race in Calgary Signal Hill over the weekend to former provincial finance minister Ron Liepert, and how this shows that open nominations are working and the way to show that the grassroots can still have an effect on the party elite. And that’s very true. But in recent weeks, there are a number of other questions that this latest round of nominations have brought up, and there are questions not being asked that probably should be.
The question of why nomination races are being held now, some 18 months away from the planned next election (if the “fixed election date” sham of a law actually held any meaning) has been a profoundly curious one to me, considering the leaked documents obtained by the Toronto Star that indicated that there was a desire to get these nominations out of the way in order to help protect incumbents. After all, the sooner they run, the easier it would be to protect them. And we’ve already seen in many cases where the Conservative incumbents have been winning their nomination races by acclamation, though that didn’t obviously help Rob Anders.
It’s not that all acclamations have been poorly run either. I look at the example of MP Michelle Rempel, who treated her nomination as though she were facing a serious challenger, and she didn’t know if she would be. Nevertheless, she organized phone banks and was out knocking on doors, and sold memberships throughout her new riding, harnessing the power of social media to do it. That she was uncontested was almost incidental to the fact that she at least campaigned as though she faced a challenger. I’m not sure that’s happened in other ridings, however, and an uncontested nomination is not necessarily an indication of robust party engagement, especially because the nomination is so far in advance of the next election and a lot can happen between now and the fall of 2015.
The example of Eve Adams running in a contested by-election in a new riding, which isn’t even part of her current riding, has also been a curious media draw. There, the openness of the nomination has meant that Adams and her fiancé Dimitri Soudas, then-executive director of the Conservative Party, were trying to use their influence to bigfoot the nomination, and there seemed to be very little adult supervision from the party itself to keep it from going off the rails. That Soudas was supposed to be part of the party’s supervision – albeit he was supposed to recuse himself from that particular nomination race because of his conflict of interest – doesn’t leave a lot of faith in other nominations that were being run given his behaviour and interference in the one riding that he was supposed to stay out of.
The notion of adult supervision in the greenlight process is part of how the Liberals have come to be in so much trouble in the nomination for the Trinity–Spadina by-election nomination, and it too has roots in the problem of everyone getting excited about the 2015 election now. Part of what transpired between would-be candidate Christine Innes, her campaign team (including husband Tony Ianno) and the Liberal Party, was the fact that the party was trying to prevent Innes from using the by-election to pre-emptively run her nomination race for the 2015 boundaries. The bullying and intimidation tactics that Ianno and others were alleged to have engaged in had to do with the 2015-boundaries nomination race, and Innes’ intention to challenge incumbent Chrystia Freeland for a potentially safer portion of the riding under the new boundaries. When the party tried to put in measures to stop the would-be candidates from fighting 2015 now, Innes balked and things erupted in the media as they did.
None of this is to suggest that the NDP have been blameless either, as the nomination for the Trinity–Spadina by-election has also been marred by a couple of particular irregularities. In particular, it was not only odd that an “open” nomination was held where candidate Joe Cressy not only had a de facto endorsement from leader Thomas Mulcair which was later dubbed a mis-speak (endorsements from leaders not exactly making playing fields fair when it comes to open nominations), but the fact that the nomination went uncontested seems to have bent the party rules.
For as long as I’ve covered politics, and the topic of nominations has come up (and it’s been fairly often given the outlets I’ve written for), the NDP have consistently told me that they won’t run a nomination contest unless one of those contesting it comes from an equity-seeking group, be it a woman, a visible minority, someone from the LGBT community, someone with a disability – you name it. And yet, Cressy, a white, able-bodied heterosexual male, not only runs uncontested, but does so in an urban riding replete with people from equity-seeking groups, and is seeking to replace Olivia Chow – a woman of Chinese heritage. That they had to use the exceptions in the party’s rules – rules they will loudly crow about every time it is pointed out that they have the highest percentage of women in their caucus – is a problem, especially because nobody is bringing it up.
While it is encouraging to see nomination races getting media attention, it remains disappointing that not enough critical questions are being asked. Open but uncontested nominations should be anathema because it means that either the riding association isn’t trying hard enough to provide a credible race in what is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, or it means that the party’s membership is complacent, which is also a bad sign for the health of our democracy. While a race like the one in Calgary Signal Hill reinforces the importance of nomination races in giving grassroots party members a voice in who will represent them, the fact that others are being held in problematic circumstances should be of concern to all of us.
Other articles by Dale Smith
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