Christine Innes Liberal candidacy rebuffed over deal, letter says

Christine Innes, a former contender for the nomination for a Toronto byeleciton, was told by the Liberal Party she had turned down a "solution" that "most of those seeking Liberal nominations would have jumped at."

Liberal organizers rejected Innes because she wouldn't agree to later 'riding assignment'

Christine Innes, a former contender for the Liberal nomination in a just-vacated Toronto riding, was told by the Liberal Party she had turned down a "solution" that "most of those seeking Liberal nominations would have jumped at."

A letter obtained by CBC News, written to Innes by David MacNaughton of the party's national election readiness committee, says her candidacy for the nomination in a byelection in the downtown riding of Trinity-Spadina cannot be accepted.

In the letter, MacNaughton goes on to tell Innes she won't be eligible for a Liberal nomination in any riding for the 2015 election.

Innes, according to the letter, had been asked to sign an agreement with the party that she would seek the nomination in the newly created riding of Spadina-Fort York in 2015. In return, the Liberal Party would support her desire to seek the nomination in the Trinity-Spadina byelection.

A byelection has yet to be called for Trinity-Spadina, which became open when former NDP MP Olivia Chow announced her candidacy for the Toronto mayoralty election.

A byelection would take place in the current boundaries of the riding. Trinity-Spadina and the riding of Toronto Centre will be split into three new ridings, due to electoral redistribution, for the 2015 federal election.

In the letter, MacNaughton says: "A similar request was made to the Liberal candidates in the other byelection ridings taking place this spring, that is, that they agree in advance where they will win in the general election [in 2015]."

Innes, says MacNaughton, rejected this solution "out of hand," whereas the other candidates accepted.  

Open nominations

The other two byelections MacNaughton is likely referring to have also not been called, but they will take place in the Alberta ridings of Macleod and Fort McMurray-Athabasca. Both the Conservative MPs for those ridings have resigned.

The fact that candidates are being asked to sign agreements about where to run seems to belie the declaration by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau that all contests for ridings will be open nominations.

In his letter, MacNaughton accuses Innes's campaign team of using "bullying and intimidation" on young volunteers if they happened to be on the "wrong side" in a nomination battle.

On Thursday, MacNaughton told The Canadian Press he was referring to tactics employed by Innes's husband, Tony Ianno, who was the former Liberal MP for the riding until he was defeated in 2006 by Chow. He said the accusations were the reason Innes was being rejected by the party.

Liberal sources say some volunteers have come forward with written complaints about being intimidated.

Sources say Innes was interested in running in the new riding of University Rosedale, where she and Ianno live and where Liberals are thought to stand a better chance of winning in 2015. Spadina-Fort York, the new riding the party had earmarked for Innes, is considered by some to be a much better bet for the NDP.

Chrystia Freeland

Other Liberals say Spadina-Fort York should be friendly to a Liberal candidate because the new riding will contain many of the new condo developments in downtown Toronto.

Liberal sources say that the new riding of University-Rosedale has been set aside for newly elected MP Chrystia Freeland.

Freeland currently represents Toronto Centre, but that riding, which will also have new boundaries in 2015, is said to be sought by Bill Morneau, former chair of the C.D. Howe Institute and a keynote speaker at the Liberals' Montreal policy convention last month.

Thursday, in a statement, Innes said the allegations about bullying tactics are "totally baseless and without merit" and were never brought to her attention.

She added that she could not sign a document agreeing to a "riding assignment," because it "seems to be at variance with the leader’s commitment to open and fair nominations."

Women candidates tired of dirty tricks

Long-time Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, who's been tasked by Trudeau to recruit women candidates, said in a phone interview that women who want to run complain about dirty tricks in nomination contests that go unpunished.

"Women candidates over the years have wanted to make sure there was a code of conduct that would be enforced and that open nominations means open and fair nominations," she said.

For the Liberals, the fact that the candidate they're rejecting is a woman is not good optics for a party that is proactively seeking female candidates.

But former Toronto Liberal MP Michelle Simson says the Liberals, seeing "a freight train coming" were trying to avert it.

Simson, who was defeated in the last election, said in phone interview, "Let's just for one minute assume a Liberal — and it was Christine — took the seat from the NDP.  So we win the byelection."

The scenario she describes is one of Innes and Freeland, both new MPs, who would be combatting each other for the Liberal nomination in the new University-Rosedale riding in 2015.

"It gets really ugly when it's two MPs," Simson said. "It was absolutely ugly with Sheila Copps and Tony Valeri."

In 2004 Copps and Valeri, both incumbent MPs, ended up fighting each other for the Liberal nomination in the newly created riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek. Neither would stand down and run in a nearby riding in order to avoid a confrontation.

Valeri won, but the contest was bitter and damaging to the party, with allegations, never-proven, of vote-tampering from Copps.

Simson says riding redistribution, which will result in 30 additional parliamentary seats in 2015 and change the borders of existing ridings, will create hard choices for every political party about who runs, especially in winnable electoral districts.

"Every party is going to have its blood baths so if you can head one off at the pass, why not?" he said.