One of the most poignant bits of political wisdom I’ve heard had to do with political nominations.
As stories were mounting about the Ontario PC party’s nomination scandals a few years back, a political operative friend shared with me advice he’d once given to a party leader: you either get the outcome you want or the process you want, but not both.
Nevertheless, political parties try to have their cake and eat it too – promising open and transparent nominations while manipulating their chosen candidates to victory.
No party can claim the moral high ground on this issue.
Last week in a London, Ont. riding, a relative unknown was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate after a former member of provincial parliament, Khalil Ramal, was disqualified from seeking the nomination after he claims to have sold 3,500 memberships.
Earlier this summer in neighbouring London North Centre, the Conservatives disqualified academic and columnist Salim Mansur nine months after he launched a nomination bid. (He’s now standing for the People’s Party of Canada instead.)
There are a round of stories like these ahead of every election, though as nomination races become more competitive, the shenanigans get more aggressive.
Parties should either commit to open nominations and accept the results, or take control of the process to ensure a slate of desired candidates. Either system is defensible, but as my old friend said, you can’t have both.
I won’t ignore the elephant in the room. I was, myself, appointed as a candidate when I ran for the Ontario PCs last year. I write this because of that experience, not in spite of it.
When I was appointed, I’d only been campaigning for the nomination a couple of weeks, while my opponent had been in the race for 18 months. Despite that, my profile as a broadcaster and connection to local conservative circles allowed me to mobilize quickly, sell a good number of memberships, and lock up support from existing members.
I was honoured to be the candidate, but from the day I got into the race I was planning on winning a nomination.
However, Doug Ford had a time crunch on his hands. He took the leadership of the PCs in March with close to 30 ridings without candidates for an election less than three months away. The party tried to have as many nominations as it could in the short window of time, but by the time the end of April rolled around, there were still 11 ridings, mine included, without candidates.
At that point, full-scale nomination contests would take time out of the calendar necessary for the eventual candidates to campaign across their ridings, so Ford and the Party Nominations Committee filled the slate on their own.
The decision was controversial, but necessary given the situation Ford had inherited from Patrick Brown’s tenure as leader, and the heightened sensitivity about nomination races given the scandals – several involving police investigations – that the party had invited.
It appeared as though my opponent had a legitimate grievance from the party, though what wasn’t known publicly is that he had been asked on numerous occasions throughout his campaign – prior to my entry and unbeknownst to me at the time – to bow out of the race because the party didn’t want him.
This is a common problem in nominations. Rather than disqualifying, which looks bad, the party will try to coax someone into resigning on their own. If that fails, they’ll look for a candidate they want who they think can win. What the party will do to make that outcome happen varies, and often gets ugly.
While I got the outcome I wanted, it certainly wasn’t the process I wanted. This became apparent in the days following my appointment. A number of party members – including some supporters of mine – felt duped because they had expected a nomination race. I was forced to answer questions about an internal party process when I wanted to be talking about taxes and hydro rates.
The spillover of PC infighting into the media had constituents who’ve never been party members and have never voted in a nomination asking questions.
All because the prior regime of the PC party didn’t have its house in order.
I don’t blame any of this for my loss, which was more the result of a city-wide NDP sweep last year. But it certainly set the campaign off on the wrong foot, for reasons that were entirely preventable.
By promising one thing and delivering another, parties are doing themselves and their candidates a grave disservice.
Photo Credit: CBC News
Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.
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