Cancelled nomination race surprises Ottawa PC candidate

Colleen McCleery was expecting to have to fight for the Progressive Conservative nomination in Ottawa Centre, but on the weekend she became one of 11 would-be PC candidates to learn they'd been hand-picked to run by Leader Doug Ford.

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford appointed 11 candidates, including Colleen McCleery in Ottawa Centre

Colleen McCleery is one of 11 candidates appointed by PC Leader Doug Ford to run in the next election. (Facebook)

Colleen McCleery was expecting to have to fight for the Progressive Conservative nomination in Ottawa Centre, but on the weekend she became one of 11 would-be PC candidates to learn they'd been hand-picked to run by Leader Doug Ford.

McCleery said she was busy inviting prospective voters to a meet-and-greet when she got the call from party president Jag Badwal, who delivered the news of her appointment.

"I just asked why, and he just said, 'We've chosen you to be the candidate," McCleery said. "So I was happy, [but] part of me thought it was a little unfair for the other person."

That other person was Chris Lunardi, her opponent in the race. Last Monday he posted a photo with Ford on Twitter, and on Thursday, thanked supporters for coming out to the official launch of his own campaign.

Through a spokesperson, Lunardi declined a request to be interviewed, but he released a statement on Sunday expressing support for McCleery and the other PC candidates.

"It's so important that we come together and vote out this Liberal government, so that we can make positive change and achieve results that matter for everyone in our province," he said in the statement.

Appointment angers supporters

However, some of Lunardi's supporters have taken to his Facebook page to express frustration with the appointment. 

"Why no nomination contest? This is not fair politics," wrote Trina Costantini-Powell. 

"Ford severely criticized Patrick Brown for doing the same thing. Now he goes back on his word," wrote Marino L. Gazzola.

On Monday, Ford, who criticized his predecessor Patrick Brown for appointing candidates, said his own appointments were necessary because of the short time left before the spring election campaign begins in early May. He blamed the situation on the "mess" he inherited from his predecessor.

At least one Ottawa-area PC candidate agreed.

Goldie Ghamari, who's running in Carleton, told CBC in a text message, "With only two weeks until the provincial election begins, we needed to have a solid team in place right away. I fully support the leader's decision."

Cameron Montgomery and Fadi Nemr, the PC candidates in Ottawa–Orléans and Ottawa–Vanier respectively, and Nepean–Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod declined to comment.

'It's not the end of the world'

Former leader Patrick Brown's appointments were much more problematic than Doug Ford's, according to Carlos Naldinho, a longtime PC volunteer who'd previously vowed to campaign against PC candidates if contentious nominations were not reopened. 

Candidate appointments might disappoint some grassroots members, but it's not the same as rigging nomination races or stuffing ballots, Naldinho said.

"I have really mixed feelings about it, but it's not the end of the world."

Unlike Brown, Ford is not "giving people a free ride into an easy seat" because they're friends or people with whom he has a personal relationship, Naldinho added. In fact, the ridings in question are those the PCs have little to no hope of winning.

"If there was more time, then sure, let's have nominations," he said. "But with two weeks to go, ridings that aren't really going to be targeted ridings, it's just about getting a name on the ballot."

Would have preferred vote

The decision to cancel nomination races likely came down to conserving the resources necessary to oversee those votes, McCleery surmised, but said she sympathizes with grassroots members angered by the decision — some of whom have contacted her personally.

"I understand their feeling, and I'd just express that I think it was the lack of resources, the rush, the timing, the election being less than seven weeks away. It was a business decision."

As for Lunardi, "he put in a lot of time and he wanted it as badly as I did," McCleery said. "I feel for him."

She's also called to invite her former opponent to a campaign event this week to recognize his contribution, but all things considered, she'd have preferred to face him at a nomination meeting.

"It's not what I was expecting, and clearly I would have liked to have won by vote."