With new nomination rules in place that some describe as “advantageous” to incumbent Conservative MPs, the federal party has opened up nominations in held ridings, but Conservatives deny the charge that they are favouring MPs in the 2019 nomination process.
The nominations in the Conservative-held ridings opened up on Nov. 1 under the new rules finalized by the Conservative Party’s national council in late October. These nominations are open in 92 ridings where there has not been a byelection held in this Parliament. In 2015, Conservatives won 99 of the 338 seats, but seven seats became vacant for a variety of reasons since then. Conservatives MPs who were elected in byelections since 2015 are exempted from nomination challenges for the 2019 election.
According to the new rules, if a challenger intends to run against an incumbent Conservative MP, the challenger needs to submit a petition supporting their candidacy with at least 50 signatures from existing riding association members by 5 p.m., Friday, Dec. 15.
Also, the challenger will be interviewed by the local Candidate Nomination Committee, consisting of three members from the local riding association executive, two “members at large” of the riding association, and either a representative of the executive director of the national party, or the executive director. If a majority of the Candidate Nomination Committee decides to reject the challenger’s application, they can make the recommendation to the National Candidate Selection Committee, which can accept or reject the recommendation. If a challenger’s application is rejected for nomination, the party may not necessarily give the candidate the reason why his or her application has been denied.
Mohinder Banga, an Edmonton City municipal councillor, who filed an application for the Conservative Party nomination in 2015, but was rejected without being told why, said that the new Conservative Party nomination rules are advantageous to the incumbent MPs. Mr. Banga, a former Edmonton City police officer, last week said that the party should be transparent in at least letting the candidate know why they’re rejecting someone’s application. There were several cases in the Conservative Party nomination process in held ridings last time where potential candidates were barred from seeking the party nomination without being told why. Some complained that the party was favouring the sitting MPs.
Mr. Banga also said that, in 2015, he did not have to get the signatures for his candidacy support from only existing members, but was allowed to sign up new members. In the last election cycle, potential candidates were required to get signatures from only 25 members.
“Incumbents sure have an advantage, it should be a democratic process, election process, not a selection process,” said Mr. Banga, now in his second term as municipal councillor.
“When they say they can say no without any reason, that’s not fair, there has to be a reason. They just told me ‘Mo, they don’t have to tell me a reason.’ That wasn’t fair.”
Mr. Banga said he is happy in his current position as municipal councillor, and has no plans to seek federal Conservative Party nomination for 2019.
In interviews last week, some party organizers and Hill staffers also described the process “advantageous” to incumbent MPs. They pointed out that challengers, this time, have to get the petition signed by existing local riding association members, and cannot sign up new party members, which makes their job harder, giving an advantage to MPs.
Also, they questioned why the party opened up the nomination process in held ridings two years ahead of 2019, and gave potential challengers only six weeks to get signatures and complete the cumbersome and lengthy paper work that requires a significant amount of time. They said unless some challengers were already plotting with “heads-up from the party,” it’s highly unlikely that many incumbent MPs will be challenged.
“These rules are kind of a surprise. We got the email on Nov. 1, without any advance notice that the party was coming up with these rules and [that they] will be implemented right away,” said one party organizer.
“I don’t think there will be many surprises [nomination challenges]. Unless someone had heads-up from the party, I don’t think anyone can meet this deadline with the required 50 signatures from existing members.”
These sources also pointed out that in an overwhelming majority of held ridings, incumbent MPs ensure that loyal supporters hold executive positions on electoral district association boards. So, the Candidate Selection Committee could unfairly recommend the rejection of a challenger’s candidacy to the national party.
But Cory Hann, director of communications to the Conservative Party, rejected the suggestion that the nomination process puts challengers at a disadvantage.
“I wouldn’t say so,” said Mr. Hann. “We’ve opened up all the ridings. Any Conservative Party member can run in it. Anyone can challenge an incumbent; this is part of our process. I wouldn’t necessarily argue that it’s advantageous for anyone.”
Later, in an email to The Hill Times he said that if a challenger felt during the process that the Candidate Nomination Committee had unfairly recommended his or her rejection, the final decision rests with the party. The challenger could also file an appeal against such rejection.
“While made up of three board members, two members at large of the EDA, and the executive director of the party or their designate, they don’t make the final determination of candidate eligibility,” Mr. Hann wrote. “They make a recommendation to the National Candidate Selection Committee which is made up of national councillors. They can choose to accept or reject that recommendation. The candidate applicant also has an appeals process they can use that would be taken to National Council more broadly.”
Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.) told The Hill Times that he accepted the new nomination rules for MPs, and declined to comment on whether the rules are fair to challengers. He said that if any party member had any objection to these rules, they could contact the party.
“I’m fine [with the rules], this is what the party decided. The party makes the decision and that’s fine,” said Mr. Obhrai. “If anybody has a beef, they can write to the party who made the decisions, I didn’t make the decisions. I have no comment on this. The party said this is in the best interest of the party.”
This is the second time since 2015 the party has introduced rule changes for the nomination of incumbent Conservative MPs.
In May of last year, Dustin Van Vugt, the executive director of the Conservative Party, told caucus members that they could ward off nomination challenges if they had $150,000 in their riding association bank account and at least one per cent of electors in their electoral district association signed up as party members.
But numerous Conservative MPs, especially from rural ridings, objected at the time that the $150,000 threshold was too high as it is harder to raise funds in rural regions of the country. So, after that, the party consulted MPs, riding associations and rank and file party members, and announced the new rules on Nov. 1.
Meanwhile, in an email to party members on Nov. 1, Conservative Party President Scott Lamb wrote that the nomination process has been opened up in held ridings as part of an effort to get ready for 2019 and “to make Justin Trudeau a one-term” prime minister.
“Why are we beginning the nomination process now? Simple: We need to be ready,” Mr. Lamb wrote in an email on Nov. 1.
“We are only two years from the next election, and to make Justin Trudeau a one-term Prime Minister, our election readiness must start today. Andrew Scheer has already started to build a strong team that will defeat Justin Trudeau in 2019, and we will continue building it from now until the next election.”
Since 2015, seven Conservative-held seats have become vacant. Late Alberta Conservative MP Jim Hillyer’s (Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner, Alta.) seat became vacant in October of last year because he died of heart attack. And six Conservatives resigned from their seats to pursue other opportunities, including former prime minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Heritage, Alta.), Jason Kenney (Calgary Midnaporte, Alta.), Rona Ambrose (Sturgeon River-Parkland, Alta.), Denis Lebel (Lac-Saint-Jean, Que.), Dianne Watts (South Surrey-White Rock, B.C.), and Gerry Ritz (Battlefords-Lloydminster, Sask.).
Mr. Hann told The Hill Times that the party has not decided yet when the nominations in unheld ridings will be opened up.