The acclamation of retired general Andrew Leslie as a candidate for the Ottawa riding of Orléans on Saturday was undemocratic, according to a former Liberal leadership candidate whose candidacy in the riding was blocked by the party.
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Lawyer David Bertschi had run for the Liberals in Ottawa-Orléans in the 2011 election and made an unsuccessful bid for the party leadership in 2013. The riding will be known as Orléans in the 2015 election.
The party said Bertschi's candidacy was blocked because he had not demonstrated significant progress reducing his leadership campaign debt of $150,000 and that he had failed to disclose a defamation suit he launched in 2013 against an American gossip website but subsequently abandoned.
At a raucous nomination meeting on Saturday, dozens of Bertschi's supporters came to voice their displeasure with Leslie's acclamation.
Tensions rose when two men got into a dispute over a Canadian flag held by one of the men, leading both Ottawa police and Bertschi to intervene. Ottawa police were at the scene and acknowledged things did heat up at the meeting, but that no charges would be laid.
Bertschi said while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had promised open nominations, the nomination of Leslie — an adviser to the Liberal leader on foreign policy and considered a star-candidate — was not open.
"At least have the guts to say, 'I want Andrew Leslie, I am appointing him,'" said Bertschi.
"The local executive had asked the national executive to either commit to free and open nominations and reinstate me, or ... open the voting so someone else in the riding could run," said Bertschi.
Liberals reach out to Bertschi supporters
A spokesman for the Liberal Party of Canada attributed the unrest at the meeting to a small group.
"Unfortunately, a small number of Mr. Bertschi’s supporters had planned to come to the meeting with the clear intention to disturb it but the overwhelming majority of the crowd, even those who had previously supported Mr. Bertschi, were excited to rally behind Andrew Leslie and were not dissuaded by the antics of a few who were determined to disrupt the meeting," said spokesman Olivier Duchesneau in an emailed statement Monday.
A letter from national campaign co-chairs Katie Telford and Dan Gagnier explaining the reasons for Bertschi's exclusion as a candidate and reaching out to Bertschi's supporters was also read at the meeting, said Duchesneau.
The letter outlines that not only was Bertschi's candicacy as a qualified candidate revoked, but that Trudeau also wrote Bertschi to formally decline to approve him as a candidate in the next election.
"This decision by the leader is final and is not reviewable by the party’s permanent appeal committee," they wrote.
Bertschi disputes the reasons the party disallowed his nomination and is appealing the process.
He said he is open to running for another party and said he is meeting with his advisers and community leaders to consider all his options.
The Liberal Party had sent out a warning in March to former leadership contenders who want to run for the party in the 2015 federal election, saying that those who went over the $100,000 leadership debt limit risked not being approved as candidates.
The letter was also sent to candidates from the 2006 race to replace Paul Martin who still have debt from the leadership campaign.
A number of leadership candidates had been dogged by debt they accumulated in trying to take over the party, something that had been an ongoing embarrassment for the party.