Roundup: Nomination shenanigans?

It looks like there are some shenanigans in Liberal nomination races for a couple of those upcoming by-elections, and as many a pundit has been saying today, Liberals gonna Liberal. And you can pretty much chalk this up to one more great big disappointment between the lofty Liberal rhetoric about valuing open nominations and then doing shady things like they have with the nominations in both Saint-Laurent and with Markham-Thornhill.

Part of what doesn’t make sense from an optics perspective is the sudden rush to call the last two by-elections for the two most recently vacated seats. In both Ottawa-Vanier and the two Calgary seats, there has been plenty of lead-time and nominations happened with nary a peep, but in the last two, the sudden rush has meant problems. With Markham-Thornhill, they retroactively cut off membership sales, which is presumed to help the “chosen” candidate, former PMO staffer Mary Ng. Ng’s campaign says they lost hundreds of registered members too, but again, this is about optics. Meanwhile in Saint-Laurent, a current Montreal borough mayor was declared not to have passed the green-light committee but they refuse to say why, which is seen as clearing the path for “star candidate” Yolande James (though there is still one other candidate, so it’s not an acclamation). But while they may have reasons for not greenlighting said borough mayor, the fact that they refuse to say why is again a nightmare for optics when this is supposed to be the party of openness, transparency and open and fair nominations.

Part of why this is such a disappointment is because we really need to push back from party leaders’ interference in nomination races if we want to restore the balance in our politics. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be safety mechanisms in the event of hijacked nominations (because there absolutely should be), but those mechanisms shouldn’t be the leader’s office. A strong grassroots is essential in our system, and with every time that the leaders and their offices interfere (because they feel emboldened to thanks to the bastardized system of leadership selection that we’ve come to adopt and go full-bore on at every single opportunity), we choke off the most fecund part of our democracy. Shenanigans and the apparently hypocrisy of proclaiming open nominations while appearing to play favourites undermines the bottom-up practice of politics, and it’s something we as Canadians need to push back against in every party.

Good reads:

  • The Senate national finance committee is concerned that there aren’t enough detailed plans for infrastructure spending, making accountability difficult.
  • Tony Clement, who is part of the reason why Shared Services Canada is the epic gong show that it is, is “concerned” that it can’t provide for the RMCP.
  • There have been at least six internal investigations since 2010 at National Defence regarding leaked documents.
  • CSIS’ latest report shows daily cyber-attacks, likely from state-sponsored actors.
  • The Federal Court has overturned an IRB decision that would have released a failed refugee claimant with a long criminal record but refuses to sign deportation papers.
  • Claude Carignan is resigning as Opposition Leader in the Senate.
  • That Conservative leadership debate in Edmonton last night went entirely off the rails and was a free-for-all of talking points.
  • Kevin “You Can’t Buy Access to Me” O’Leary won’t show up for fundraisers if the take is less than $50,000.
  • O’Leary may or may not also be using private aircraft, which could very well be illegal under Elections Canada rules.
  • Anne Kingston reads the Trumpian cues of Kellie Leitch’s terrible quality video.
  • Susan Delacourt suspects that basic income may be the next NDP policy proposal that the Liberals decide to crib.
  • My column this week looks at the strange way we’re importing American rhetoric in the debate over irregular migrant arrivals.

Odds and ends:

An infestation of bats drove public servants away from an INAC building in Gatineau.

Scott Feschuk reads between the lines in Kellie Leitch’s bizarre Facebook video.

Note: Your weekly reminder that my Loonie Politics columns are now paywalled, but if you use promo code Smith, then it’s $40/year instead of $50.

3 thoughts on “Roundup: Nomination shenanigans?

  1. Point #1: any potential candidate could (and should) have had their supporters sign up as registered Liberals the moment after McCallum’s stepping down was announced. The cutoff date only impedes poorly organized candidates.

    Point #2: greenlight process is confidential-it has to be, for privacy reasons (background checks). From the rules: ” The results of such background checks shall be kept confidential…” (

    • You raise good points, but I will reiterate that optics matter, especially at the grassroots level. They could have handled these cases better than they have.

  2. The Greenlight process within the Liberal Party of Canada has three purposes. One is to weed out genuine concerns, such as criminal activity on the part of prospective candidates. The second is to provide an all-purpose mechanism for the Leader and his entourage to ensure that prospective candidates who may not be a perfect fit (e.g., too old, too experienced, too independent) can be eliminated without having to admit why. The third (very much related to the second) is to ensure that candidates who could present a serious challenge to the establishment’s “preferred” candidate are turfed so as not to spoil the coronation.

    Similarly, retroactive cutoffs of the period for signing up Registered Liberals (RLs) are frequently used to benefit the preferred candidate. This works because the number of RLs in a Liberal EDA can be relatively low and the number of those who are active and can be relied upon to turn up to a nomination meeting are, almost by definition, those most committed to the Leader of the day and the establishment built up around him. These RLs are considered the most likely to support the establishment candidate because they are either part of it or, as the PM might say, are “struggling hard to join it.” The Leader’s Office or the PMO (as the case may be) merely has to let it be known which candidate is preferred.

    It should be recalled that prior to the 2015 election Justin Trudeau’s crew frequently intervened to favour the Leader’s preferred candidates. In responding to complaints that this was not in line with the openness he was espousing, his spokespeople took to saying that while Justin might not personally involve himself in local nominating races, that should not be taken to mean that he “didn’t have a favourite.” So the latest shenanigans are just a continuation of what has been going on since 2013.

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