Recent riding-level rancour could turn off voters

All things considered, it has been a rough few weeks on the ostensibly "open" and democratic nomination front to which all parties have so enthusiastically laid claim. What effect will high-profile - and increasingly nasty - nomination battles have on voters?
Getting involved in a local nomination bid by his fiancee, MP Eve Adams, helped spell the end of Dimitri Soudas's return to Parliament Hill - making him the latest casualty in a nomination process that is in flux for all three parties. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

All things considered, it has been a rough few weeks on the "open" and democratic nomination front to which all the federal parties so enthusiastically lay claim.

While the Liberals were still licking their wounds after a skirmish over who will represent the party in the still-uncalled byelection in Toronto's TrinitySpadina, a similarly vicious fight for running rights in the newly created GTA riding of Oakville-North Burlington led to the ouster of the Conservative Party's now former executive director.

Dimitri Soudas — handpicked for the gig by the prime minister, whom he had served in various senior capacities for more than a decade — was forced to give up his six-figure-a-year salary as election-prep chief after his alleged interference in the race in support of his fiancée, sitting MP Eve Adams, very nearly provoked a mutiny at the riding level.

By Sunday, it was Soudas who was out.

Meanwhile, out west, incumbent Conservative MP Rob Anders is mounting a very public — and personal — defence in Calgary Signal Hill, where he's facing his first serious nomination challenge in years.
In Calgary-Signal Hill, Ron Liepert, left, has alleged misleading robocalls by his rival for the Conservative nomination, MP Rob Anders. (CBC)

Last week, his sole rival, former Alberta PC minister Ron Liepert, accused Anders of being behind what he claimed was a deceptive phone call campaign.

In response, Anders threatened to sue him for defamation, and held a press conference to release the names of so-called "temporary Conservatives" he said were buying memberships to kick him off the ticket while fully intending to support the Liberals or the New Democrats in 2015.

Don't get smug, Liberals: That TrinitySpadina skirmish doesn't seem to be over yet, if any credence can be given to rumours of a revenge takeover of the University Rosedale riding association by supporters of thwarted byelection hopeful Christine Innes.

And that's not the end of disgruntled party insiders and potential candidates claiming that favouritism from on high is still very much at play behind the scenes.

Growing pains

So, given the cross-party rancour surrounding the candidate selection process, is it time to start questioning the value of truly open nominations?

Not yet.

This is, after all, the first time that Conservative and Liberal incumbent MPs been left entirely to fend for themselves on the local hustings.

During the minority years, both parties offered extensive protection for sitting MPs, on the not-unreasonable grounds that they couldn't be expected to run a nomination campaign under such unpredictable conditions.
Former Liberal candidate Christine Innes was disqualified from seeking a byelection nomination in Trinity-Spadina over allegations of bullying - and because she wouldn't agree to stand clear of Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland when new ridings are introduced in 2015.

Add to that the seismic shakeup from fitting 30 new ridings into the electoral jigsaw puzzle, and you can see why the road to 2015 may be considerably bumpier than has been the case in recent years.

And while the New Democratic Party so far seems to have dodged the controversies currently dogging their political rivals, it's not entirely clear whether that's due to an internal party culture less prone to waging turf warfare or it's simply a matter of time before a hotly contested battle to carry the orange banner turns nasty.

Party veterans point out that, unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals, this is the first time that the the NDP has actually had national rules for local nominations. In previous years, each province administered its own candidate-selection regime.

That could partly explain the relative lack of internal griping thus far: there's far less motivation for complaints when there's no basis for comparison.

Almost too open

The Liberals can at least comfort themselves with the knowledge that, as contentious as the current candidate selection process may seem, it could be worse.

It might have descended into utter chaos if the party had gone ahead with a proposal to extend nomination voting rights to party "supporters" as well as card-carrying, dues-paying members.

At the 2012 biennial convention in Ottawa, delegates voted to create a class of "supporters" and allow them to vote in leadership contests, but defeated a resolution that would have given them the right to vote in local nomination races as well — a move that, given the machinations already in evidence in downtown Toronto, is likely leaving local organizers with a sense of relief in retrospect.

In any case, if you step back to behold the full spectrum of nomination dysfunction, it's hard not to worry that grassroots grumbling over favouritism, race-fixing and other unfair practices, whether well-founded or not, may further deter the newly politically aware from dipping a toe into the democratic process.

If that turns out to be the case, regardless of the results of those races, we may all turn out to be on the losing team.


  • The allegedly deceptive phone calls in Calgary Signal Hill were live calls, not robocalls, as incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this story.
    Apr 01, 2014 9:16 AM ET

About the Author

Kady O'Malley

Kady O'Malley covered Parliament Hill for CBC News until June, 2015.


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