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Potential candidates question fairness of Markham-Thornhill Liberal nomination as Trudeau aide runs

By Abbas Rana      

Contrary to some concerns, Liberal spokesman Braeden Caley says the party treats all candidates equally.

Mary Ng, left, appointments director to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Juanita Nathan, a school board trustee, are running for the Liberal nomination in the GTA riding of Markham-Thornhill, vacated by veteran MP and cabinet minister John McCallum. Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, right, might also run for Liberal nomination in this riding.
Photographs courtesy of the candidates

Concerned that a top political aide to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is running for the Liberal nomination in the federal riding of Markham-Thornhill, Ont., some potential candidates are reconsidering their plans and questioning if the contest is going to be a fair fight.

Liberal sources told The Hill Times that potential candidates are hoping to get a firm commitment from the party that the nomination contest will be “truly fair” and that the party will not pull the strings to ensure Prime Minister’s Office appointments director Mary Ng’s success in the contest.

One potential candidate considering a run for nomination described the top PMO aide as a “parachute” candidate who does not live in the riding. Ms. Ng lives in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont., currently represented by rookie Liberal MP Marco Mendicino.

Markham-Thornhill became vacant last month when Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) appointed six-term Liberal MP and former immigration minister John McCallum as Canada’s ambassador to China.

“If the party is behind her and the party machinery is behind her, it’ll be considered as parachuting a candidate,” said a potential Liberal candidate, on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the party. “This party, particularly, shouldn’t be doing that because this party has always shown themselves as very open-minded and fair. They shouldn’t parachute a candidate. Give everybody an opportunity to run.”

Braeden Caley, the federal Liberal Party’s senior director of communications, said the nomination contest is open and no candidate will receive special treatment.

“Very clear rules for the nomination contest in all five anticipated coming byelections have been openly posted and available on the Liberal Party’s website, and the nomination process in Markham-Thornhill will be fully in line with all of those rules,” Mr. Caley told The Hill Times.

He added that a number of “talented” candidates have expressed interest in running for the nomination, but declined to share any names. He said the party has not finalized the date of the nomination contest.

“The party has been approached by a variety of very talented prospective candidates in Markham-Thornhill and we’re working with all of them very closely on the details of the process,” he said.

Ms. Ng. told The Hill Times she’s not receiving special treatment.

“I’m starting at the same point as anyone else, as someone who wants to earn the support of people in Markham-Thornhill,” she said. “It’s a lifelong dream for me to hold public office, and I spent 20 years in public service, and I’m inspired to do this at this particular time. But I’m starting like everyone else at this point.”

Ms. Ng is a close friend of Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Trudeau. Ms. Ng and Ms. Telford both worked in former Ontario Education minister Gerard Kennedy’s office more than a decade ago as senior ministerial aides at Queen’s Park.

Mary Ng, director of appointments to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is running for Liberal nomination in Markham-Thornhill. Courtesy of Mary Ng’s Twitter

Ms. Ng, who emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada at a young age, is now on a leave of absence from the PMO. She made her candidacy for Liberal nomination official on Feb. 15.

“Proud and excited to announce my nomination to become the #Liberal Candidate for #Markham-Thornhill. Join me at votemaryng.ca #cdnpoli,” she tweeted that day.

Prior to Ms. Ng’s campaign launch, at least six candidates were testing the waters for the Liberal nomination in the riding, including Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, school board trustee Juanita Nathan, chartered accountant and former city councillor Khalid Usman, lawyer Scott Au, businesswoman Sofia Ming Sun, and lawyer Bang-Gu Jiang.

Three of these people—Mr. Au, Ms. Jiang, and Ms. Sun—have decided to endorse Ms. Ng’s candidacy. Ontario International Trade Minister Michael Chan (previously considered a potential candidate), Markham Councillor Amanda Collucci, Vaughan Councillor Sandra Racco, and Francis Yuen, executive vice-president of the Markham-Thornhill Liberal Association, have also endorsed Ms. Ng.

Mr. Usman told The Hill Times last week that he had decided not to run for nomination for family reasons, and because it’s the start of the tax season, he’d be busy with his business in the coming months.

Ms. Nathan said she has no concerns about the fairness of the nomination contest and has already been signing up members for two weeks.

“I’m going in with full force. I’m going to go ahead,” she said.

Mayor Scarpitti was not available for comment.

Mr. Au said it’s a “valid point” for potential candidates to think the nomination process might not be fair because of Ms. Ng’s senior PMO position. But he said this was not a factor in his decision not to run and endorse Ms. Ng.

Rather, he said he’s endorsing the top PMO adviser because of Ms. Ng’s qualifications and her 20-year background working in politics, including her work with the Ontario government.

“I’ll argue that this is not about me, this is about the party,” Mr. Au said. “We want to have the best candidate for the job, and I feel that Mary is that [candidate], not because of her relationship with the prime minister, but because of her personal qualities.”

The appointments director is one of the most senior positions in the PMO. This person manages the process and advises the prime minister on all governor-in-council appointments, which are about 3,500 in number. These positions include about 1,000 federally appointed judges, 100 ambassadors and high commissioners, 500 full-time and 1,900 part-time appointees “in a wide array of agencies, boards, commissions, Crown corporations and government departments,” according to the Privy Council Office website.

Senate appointments also fall under governor-in-council appointments, and Mr. Trudeau chooses new Senators on the non-binding recommendations of the Independent Senate advisory board.

Before advising the prime minister to fill specific positions, the PCO website says, the appointments director works closely with cabinet ministers and agency heads “to ensure that appointments take into account Canada’s diversity and meet the needs of the organization to which they are being made.”

Ms. Ng told The Hill Times: “As director of appointments, it was my responsibility to ensure that public appointments are made in a meritorious, open, transparent way, and to ensure that our public appointments are diverse and will achieve gender parity.”

In a press release on the day of her campaign launch, she said she’s the highest ranking Chinese-Canadian to have ever served in the PMO, and she recently accompanied and advised Mr. Trudeau on a trip to China.

Markham-Thornhill, a riding reconfigured prior to the last federal election, is one of the most multicultural ridings in the country with an 82 per cent visible-minority population. The two highest visible-minority groups in this riding are Chinese with 35.2 per cent of the population and South Asians with 30.8 per cent. This riding has the third highest visible minority population in the country after Scarborough North, Ont., which has 90.1 per cent, and Brampton East, Ont., with 87.6 per cent, according to data compiled by multiculturalism author and commentator Andrew Griffith.

Mr. McCallum won the riding in the last election with 55.7 per cent of the vote. Second-place Conservative candidate Jobson Easow won 32.3 per cent, and third-place NDP candidate Senthi Chelliah received 10.7 per cent.

There are 33 ridings in Canada with a visible-minority populations of more than 50 per cent, most of them in the Toronto or Vancouver areas. Of these, there are three ridings where this proportion is more than 80 per cent, all of which are in the Greater Toronto Area.

Besides Markham-Thornhill, four other ridings are vacant, including Ottawa-Vanier, Ont.; Calgary Heritage, Alta., Calgary Midnapore, Alta; and Saint-Laurent, Que. As of deadline last week, Mr. Trudeau had not called a byelection for any of these ridings.

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

Ridings with more than 50 per cent visible-minority population

Riding Name Province        Visible Minority Population %

Scarborough North   Ontario           90.1%

Brampton East          Ontario           87.6%

Markham-Thornhill  Ontario           82%

Vancouver South       British Columbia       79.2%

Scarborough-Agincourt        Ontario           79%

Markham-Unionville Ontario           78.8%

Mississauga-Malton  Ontario           75.2%

Etobicoke North        Ontario           72.8%

Surrey-Newton          British Columbia       72.2%

York West      Ontario           72.2%

Brampton West         Ontario           71.2%

Vancouver Kingsway            British Columbia       71.1%

Steveston-Richmond East    British Columbia       70.5%

Richmond Centre      British Columbia       70.3%

Scarborough-Rouge Park     Ontario           70.2%

Scarborough-Guildwood      Ontario           68.1%

Don Valley North       Ontario           67.1%

Mississauga Centre   Ontario           67%

Scarborough Centre             Ontario           64.4%

Burnaby South          British Columbia       63.4%

Fleetwood-Port Kells            British Columbia       62.3%

Brampton North        Ontario           61.4%

Willowdale     Ontario           60.3%

Surrey Centre            British Columbia       60.1%

Calgary Skyview        Alberta           59.6%

Brampton South        Ontario           59.5%

Mississauga-Erin Mills          Ontario           59.5%

Don Valley East         Ontario           55.9%

Richmond Hill            Ontario           54.9%

York South-Weston   Ontario           54.3%

Brampton Centre      Ontario           53.7%

Scarborough Southwest       Ontario           51.1%

Saint-Laurent            Quebec           50.4%

Source: Andrew Griffith

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