The leader has the right to express preferences for local candidates

By Angelo Persichilli

The Hill Times (March 13, 2017)

The Trudeau Liberals have been called hypocrites lately because of their meddling in the democratic process to nominate local candidates.

Is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a hypocrite? According to the political rhetoric and some statements made by the Liberals during the last campaign and before, the answer could be yes.

 

Eve
Eve Adams (by Jake Wright)

The issue is more complex. In an ideal world, every riding association has the duty to organize a fair nomination process without favouring any of the potential candidates. However, there are other important elements that should be part of the process.

 

It is important that constituents are represented by someone who knows their needs and, hopefully, he or she is from their community. The process must be open and fair. Everyone interested should be given an opportunity to run and, at the same time, the most qualified, honest, and hard-working candidate should represent their constituents.

In theory, it sounds great. In reality, it is rather complicated.

For example, how can we reconcile the need to have a local candidate and, at the same time, to vote for the most qualified if the two requirements aren’t met by the same person? A perfect democracy will not necessarily elect the perfect candidate.

There are also other elements to be taken into account.

If there are two local candidates with the same characteristics, why shouldn’t the leader support the one he or she trusts the most? The leader has the right to form a team that he or she is going to be comfortable with once in Parliament or in government. Hopefully, that person comes from the riding, but that is not always the case.

In a local nomination race, media coverage is minimal, mostly limited to controversies, candidates are not well known, and the program is a cut and paste of the national party platform. The elements that count are the capacity to recruit more members, the ability to bring them in on voting day, and a financial capacity to support it all. Honesty, professionalism, and the ability to articulate a thought are optional—like choosing a leather seat when buying a new car.

This is very dangerous because many good people without financial recourses and little organizational skills will be left out. Furthermore, the leader of the party will be impeded from building a team he trusts and is willing to support his program nationally to the electorate.

In this context, how is Trudeau doing in handling this hot issue?

I will elaborate with two previous celebrated nominations in which he and his party where directly involved: the nomination process in the riding of University-Rosedale, Ont., to have Chrystia Freeland elected, and the one in Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont., supporting former Conservative MP-turned-Liberal Eve Adams against a local candidate.

I will not judge Trudeau’s choices of the candidates and the legal implications of the involvement in the process. However, I believe that a leader has the right to support the candidate that might serve his government better only if three conditions are met.

The support should be transparent, avoiding any kind of discrimination against the opponent. And if the latter wins, they shouldn’t be penalized.

Trudeau has been always open about his preferences for candidates, and that is positive. I don’t know if discrimination was at play to secure the election of Freeland and I don’t know if the successful candidate in Eglinton-Lawrence, Marco Mendicino, is not in Trudeau’s cabinet because he is not qualified or because he defeated the leader’s handpicked candidate.

My point is this: a leader should not be penalized when he expresses preferences to choose a member of his own team, but they should not use their position to manipulate the process to favour themselves either.

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