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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2014 (2095 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
“When we see a politician from any party, the political structures within any party, strong-arming local organizations like this, it reflects poorly on all of us as politicians and as political parties.”
— Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, September 2013.
While it may not always be apparent to ordinary voters, there are often good reasons why politicians give maddeningly vague answers to direct questions, and why those who run for office — typically speaking — are very careful about the promises they make.
And, of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.
A little more than a year ago, Justin Trudeau made the comment above during a conversation with a Sun reporter, conducted at Brandon University soon after one of the most controversial Conservative nomination races ever seen in Brandon-Souris.
Only a few days earlier, former provincial Tory MLA Larry Maguire had become the federal Conservative party’s acclaimed nominee after a nomination process saw two other candidates — former MP Merv Tweed staffer Chris Kennedy and Brandon Coun. Len Isleifson — disqualified from contention, apparently because of incomplete paperwork.
In the days and weeks that followed Maguire’s acclamation, it became apparent that several local Tories believed high-level Conservative party members had interfered in the local nomination process to see Kennedy and Isleifson ousted from contention.
Though party brass vehemently denied any top-down meddling, the poor optics surrounding the nomination process became an election issue, and nearly cost the Conservatives one of its most yellow-dog ridings on election night.
As an aside, the Conservative party’s National Council decided earlier this year to grandfather all the byelection winners since 2011 without having to face a second nomination, and Brandon-Souris automatically fell under that category. To his credit, Maguire told the Sun in both an interview and in a letter to the editor that he preferred an open nomination race.
Throughout the 2013 byelection, Trudeau and the local Liberal candidate, Rolf Dinsdale, tried to sell themselves and their party as offering a better way — not the top-down iron fist of a Conservative government, but a more open and transparent organization that would not resort to such heavy-handed tactics at the local level.
This had, in fact, been the theme upon which Trudeau built his own campaign for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada earlier in the year. During a speech in April 2013, the then-leadership candidate talked of the value of community service, a trait he said that the Conservatives under Stephen Harper had forgotten.
“We need to be a party of community leaders, devoted to community service. That’s why I am calling for open nominations for all Liberal candidates in every single riding in the next election.”
As the Toronto Star later opined, following his leadership win, Trudeau had “pledged that every candidate who ran under his banner would be chosen in a free vote by Liberals in his or her riding. Incumbents would not be protected. Star candidates would not be parachuted into winnable ridings. He would not interfere with the selection process.”
But that pledge has not been honoured.
Last March, Trudeau blocked Christine Innes, a two-time Liberal candidate, from running in Trinity Spadina, the riding vacated by Olivia Chow in her bid to become Toronto’s mayor.
Trudeau told media that she was blocked because the behaviour of her campaign team — essentially he called her a bully — reflected badly on the party. In court documents later filed as part of a $1.5-million libel suit against Trudeau, as later reported by The Canadian Press, Innes maintains the bullying allegations were a “smokescreen” to hide the real reason Innes was barred: Her refusal to promise she wouldn’t run against a hand-picked Trudeau star recruit, Toronto Centre MP Chrystia Freeland.
This is not the only case of Trudeau’s hand-picked stars taking the upper hand in nomination races. In September, two members of the Liberal riding association in Brantford-Brant in Ontario quit in protest of what they said was the party’s failure to respect Trudeau’s open nomination pledge.
CBC News reported that riding association members claimed the party favoured Danielle Takacs, the only officially registered candidate, by abruptly calling a nomination vote.
And just this week, news broke that former Liberal leadership contender David Bertschi has been told he won’t be allowed to seek the party nomination in Ottawa-Orleans, leaving retired general Andrew Leslie, an adviser to Trudeau on foreign policy and a favoured candidate, as the only declared contender in the nomination contest.
We were highly critical of the Conservative nomination process that unfolded in Brandon-Souris before the 2013 byelection, and we remain concerned over the potential for the party to meddle in local nomination procedures.
But, quite frankly, Trudeau’s Liberals have conducted themselves just as poorly as their Tory counterparts, and have lost any moral high ground they may have had on this particular issue.
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