Nova Scotia·Opinion

Opinion: Robyn Ingraham's life experiences should not have been a deterrent for N.S. Liberals

This column is an opinion piece by Neeta Kumar-Britten, an elementary school teacher in Cape Breton who once sought a provincial nomination with the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia and vetted candidate for the federal Liberals.

'I would have given Ms. Ingraham the green light' says former Liberal vetter

This column is an opinion by Neeta Kumar-Britten, an elementary school teacher of 28 years who volunteered politically for a decade. She lives in Cape Breton with her spouse and two sons. For more information about CBC's opinion section, please see the FAQ.

What should a politician look like and sound like? What are the qualifications of a MLA or MP? Can a citizen who wants to participate in democracy as a candidate have varied lived experiences, or do they all have to follow a typical path to Parliament or the legislature?

In the midst of a summer election, these questions have arisen after the ousting of candidate Robyn Ingraham in the riding of Dartmouth South.

A decade ago, I was a nomination candidate for the provincial Liberals, lost, and remained a volunteer in the party federally. I was asked to take on the role of "green-light chair" for the Liberal Party of Canada in 2014. It was an extensive and time- consuming task, vetting, or screening, people who wanted to run for election. There were 13 members on the team across Canada, with a national green-light chair, an experienced lawyer who was our go-to person if we had challenges.

Another team member was responsible for screening the potential candidate's social media accounts. I spent 2½ years vetting over 50 potential party nominees in Nova Scotia, simultaneously working as a teacher. I protected each 30-plus page application, personal financial information, and each candidate underwent a two- to three-hour interview with me, most often by phone, all strictly confidential.

Our identities and locations as green-light chairs were kept confidential. I was most fortunate to foster relationships of trust and support with all the people I worked with in this process. Then, I reported my result — green or red — to campaign chairs.

The way I was trained by my national chair shaped my approach to first protect the person who put their name forward. That courage and sacrifice, and their life stories, had to be respected. Secondly, I protected the reputation of the party and the leader, two entities I wished to protect about as much as I wanted to protect the person who was putting their life on display.

The last question I always asked after hours of conversation was, "Is there anything else you need to tell me that will help keep you, the party, and the leader safe in this process?" This was the point where I learned the most. If someone had something in their past about which they felt vulnerable, 99 per cent of the time I was able to work alongside them to value those times of their lives, and determine how their life experiences fit into their identity.

Most often, there was nothing so difficult that would prevent them from running. We were almost always able to move safely to candidacy with honesty and respect.

I would have given Ms. Ingraham the green light from what I have read in traditional and social media. Her portrait was framed with the logo and shared by the NSLP [Nova Scotia Liberal Party]. She passed the current NSLP test and was ready to run. Then, according to Ms. Ingraham, the party took it back. Further, they wrote two versions of the events and had her choose which story she wanted to use as to why she was no longer the candidate, and, most troubling, they asked her to use her mental health as an excuse.

So, does Ms. Ingraham look and sound like an MLA in the eyes and ears of Nova Scotians? At the federal level, we call the place for our MPs the House of Commons. In a democracy, shouldn't the people we elect represent all of us, the "commoners," and not just one segment of society?

Ms. Ingraham was rejected after being green lit because of the images she shared in a global pandemic, when her usual source of income was taken away because of a provincial state of emergency. These are not "normal" times. What is "normal?" What is a "normal" MLA? What is a "normal" student, or a "normal" doctor, or a "normal" musician, a "normal" tradesperson, a "normal" politician?

If we as a society truly want to be inclusive, we better check ourselves and perhaps just use "normal" as a setting on the dryer, as a local candidate in my home community of Cape Breton often says.

The premier yesterday stated that perhaps the Nova Scotia Liberal Party would welcome Ms. Ingraham back. The bigger question is, after this experience, whether or not Ms. Ingraham can live comfortably under their tent.