Justin Trudeau under fire from Trinity-Spadina Liberals
'This is contrary to everything the Liberal Party ... is supposed to stand for'
It appears that supporters of one-time Liberal candidate Christine Innes are ready to fight for her right to enter the nomination race for the still-undeclared byelection in Trinity-Spadina — and they've got the blessing of the local riding association executive to take their case straight to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
On Thursday, the Federal Trinity-Spadina Liberal Association announced, via press release, that the local executive has "voted to condemn both the process and the decision made by the Liberal Party to block its only known nominee in an imminent by-election."
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The release claims the party "made unproven and malicious allegations against the candidate and her family" in an effort to "cover up its desire to control the nomination process" — specifically, they allege, in response to Innes's refusal to sign a written pledge to run for the nomination in Spadina-Fort York in 2015.
"There was absolutely no due or fair process," riding president Julia Metus is quoted as saying in the release.
"No one picked up the phone to contact me, there was no opportunity to discuss their concerns, and there was zero local involvement. This is contrary to everything the Liberal Party — new or otherwise — is supposed to stand for.”
The riding executive has requested a face-to-face meeting with Trudeau to review the decision "and return to fairness and due process."
Top Liberal 'mystified' by reaction
Reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, Liberal election readiness chair David MacNaughton told CBC News he finds the whole situation "a bit curious."
"One of the first things I did last week was to reach out and talk to [Metus]. I had a conversation with her on Friday evening."
It was a "very friendly conversation," he said.
"None of these issues were raised. I said to her that I understood that some people would be upset, but that there was a process in place, we made a judgment call, and we want to move on now. She said yes, absolutely."
Later in the discussion, MacNaughton recalled, "she actually said to me, 'I hope you have a candidate in mind.'"
He told her he didn't.
"We agreed to stay in touch, and agreed that the riding association has a role to play in reaching out to find a candidate, and that I'd pass on any ideas that we had about potential candidates. [...] There were no specific questions about why or under what circumstances we did what we did, or anything else."
Fast forward to today, when, McNaughton says, the first he heard about the outcome of Wednesday night's meeting was from reporters calling him for comment on the press release.
"I'm mystified, because I thought we'd had quite a constructive conversation, and I can't imagine that [Metus] would think anything different."
As for the challenge to go public with the evidence on which the decision was made, he says, "several people approached us, not solicited by us, and gave us what we considered to be credible stories around intimidation and bullying."
In each case, he told CBC News, "for obvious reasons, they did not want to become a public spectacle, and have their name used and bandied around in the press. They didn't want to be subjected to further intimidation that usually happens when names are published."
The party decided to respect that confidentiality, he said.
"We made a judgment call. We've been asked to make those kinds of judgments, and we did it, and people are going to have to trust that these were not random — we felt they were credible. That's the judgment we made, and I stand by it."
Complaints lodged by several young Liberals, and obtained by The Canadian Press, specifically singled out Innes's husband, former Liberal MP Tony Ianno, for suggesting they'd have no future in the party if they supported Freeland and questioning Trudeau's leadership.
Those documents have not been viewed by CBC News. Innes has denied the accusations.
According to The Canadian Press, Innes's campaign team had been preparing for the Trinity–Spadina byelection for months, while simultaneously trying to recruit support for a pro-Innes slate to take control of the riding executive of the new University–Rosedale riding, where current Toronto Centre MP Chrystia Freeland intends to run in 2015.
The riding-level rebellion is only the latest twist in what has become a running battle over just how open the nomination process will be.
Last week, Liberal hopeful Zach Paikin very publicly called off his own pre-campaign to get the Liberal nod in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas to protest the party's treatment of Innes.
In a statement posted to Facebook, he stated that he could not, "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."
Trudeau hinted earlier this week that the party would be soon be releasing more details on the nomination process, although it's by no means a sure thing that such retroactive transparency will quell the rising backlash over the party's handling of the Innes situation.
Still, with the clock ticking down on the three pending byelections, Team Trudeau would be wise to do whatever it takes to forge at least a temporary truce in Trinity-Spadina, or risk throwing the eventual Liberal banner-carrier out on the hustings without the all-important ground support.
Meanwhile, the Trinity-Spadina New Democrats will welcome their first — and, so far, only — declared nomination candidate on Friday evening, when Joe Cressy makes it official with a kickoff at a local pub.
With files from The Canadian Press