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Nomination campaigns - The Wild West

I still recall the day, several years ago, that I got my first taste of how ugly internal party politics can be.

I picked up a call that came in on my cell phone as I was out and about door-knocking to secure support in an internal party contest.  

“Hello, Mr. Peterson, this is Mrs. X. I need to talk to you.” 

I recognized the name and the voice. It was a charming and wonderfully cheerful senior who had signed up as a new party member just two weeks previously on her front doorstep.

“Oh, hello Mrs. X, so good to hear from you. How are you doing?”

“Well, not very well,” came the sharp response.  “Why didn’t you tell me that you were a fraudster and a stock market con artist. I would never have supported you when you came to my door if I had known that, and I’m certainly not going to votef or you now!”

She paused. I was stunned and was trying to process what she had just said.

“I have a letter that just came in the mail today,” she went on. “From someone who says they know you and have worked with you in the past. They say you are a crook and a shyster who is known to lure seniors like me into shady deals and take all their money. How can you live with yourself?”

Before I could even reply, she hung up. And then, a second call came in, that went along the same lines. And a third, followed by at least a dozen more over the next few hours. For more than a week I was inundated with outraged calls from party members. Even worse, I received calls from friends who’d signed up to support my campaign and received the same letter, wondering how I could get involved in something that would allow this to happen.

It turned out that someone on my opponent’s campaign team had obtained access to the party membership list, written an anonymous letters mearing my professional reputation with entirely baseless claims and sent it out to party members – including new members like Mrs. X who had just recently signed up.

I was reminded of that incident while reading new reports last week of nomination candidate dropping out of a Toronto-area race overclaims that the process had become corrupted and made her “the clear target of highly unethical, and potential illegal, efforts to sway the vote”. She says that another candidate had privileged access to the party’s membership list and used it to send out a disparaging email about her.

It’s “déjà vu” all over again, right? It’s nothing new – unfortunately. How many times have we read, or heard about, or – for many of us – even seen or been subject to flawed internal party nomination or internal election campaigns at the federal or provincial levels?

That’s right. Lots of times. You don’t have to look very hard to dig up examples like the one above. And, more recently, the stakes have been upped considerably as we’re seeing  how federal nominations have become a ‘gateway’ to foreign interference.

There is something fundamentally wrong with our political system if we continue to shrug off dirty internal politics like the examples above as simply “politics as usual”.

The Wild West

Campaigns for internal nominations and party leadership races are hugely important and are often decided by a relatively small number of voters. The stakes are high, and votes in support of a candidate are valued even higher. These races are often harder, longer and more challenging than a “normal” election campaign against rival parties.

Which is why they often look like the Wild West of politics. Anything goes. Rules are bent. Scales are tipped. And in the end, it’s simply tallied up to “party politics”.

So, what’s the answer? You would think that a very simple fix would be to have Elections Canada oversee internal party nominations. It makes sense – why not duplicate in nomination or leadership races the same rules, procedures, safeguards and oversight that a successful candidate will encounter in a “real” election campaign?

That’s absolutely a direction we should be pushing in. There is one key issue, however, that stops this from becoming a realistic option in the short term: the glacial pace and painfully cumbersome reporting and communication issues with Elections Canada would require an overhaul and a fix that would likely take years before that body would be as responsive and flexible as required to oversee party nomination races at the local level.

However, party leadership races are quite another story, and could easily today come under Elections Canada oversight. As so they should.

Until that happens, the onus to clean up the Wild West of nomination and leadership races is on the political parties themselves. The track record of the other federal parties is clearly not one that would lead anyone to believe they are capable of turning over a new leaf. Far from it – things only seem to be getting worse, as we saw last week.

This creates an opportunity for the Canadian Future Party. Just as we have done with our initial outreach on policy issues and our constitution, we have an opportunity to start with a clean slate and instill a rigorous, fair and open nomination and leadership selection process.

We’re already going down that road, with work that will culminate at our national convention in Ottawa scheduled for November of this year.

At the end of the day, it’s really not that difficult to get this right, if we really want to do so. Clear rules, a transparent process, timelines that are fair and reasonable, and protection of membership lists are the four pillars that need to be respected and enforced. These also happen to be the four areas that often raise red flags in disputed contests, as we saw above.

A clean slate

If we can get these right, we’ll be far ahead of the pack. In doing so, we’ll attract outstanding candidates who recognize that this is where their contribution to Canadian democracy can be most valued and supported.

It’s already starting. I have seen it.

Over the past few weeks I have met with a number of exceptionally strong and motivated Canadians interested in seeking the Canadian Future Party nomination in one of the three upcoming by-elections, as soon as we receive the green light from Elections Canada allowing us to begin that process.

In conversations with these people in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg, there is one single motivation they have that stands out from their other reasons to work with us: the opportunity they see with the Canadian Future Party to start on a clean slate. They are seeking an opportunity to get away from the entrenched internal politics of the other major federal political parties and build campaigns with a fresh start on level ground.

That is so very powerful. As we’re about to see.

The by-elections coming up at some point between now and September in Montreal’s LaSalle–Émard–Verdun, in Toronto-St. Paul’s, and in Winnipeg’s Elmwood-Transcona ridings may very possibly showcase this newfound talent.

And from there, we’ll have nearly a full year until the next federal election to work with others like them across Canada who see the same opportunity and who are tired of the politics as usual from the other federal parties.

Let’s get to work.

Rick Peterson

Founding member

Canadian Future Party


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