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Liberal candidates revolt in Markham-Thornhill as retroactive deadline seen as favouring top Trudeau aide Ng

By Abbas Rana      

On Feb. 20, the Liberal Party sent an email saying the deadline for signing up new members eligible to vote was Feb. 14.

Markham businessman Nadeem Qureshi, left, and Markham school board trustee Juanita Nathan are saying that the Liberal nomination process in Markham-Thornhill is not fair. They say Mary Ng, right, director of appointments to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is the party leadership's preferred candidate. Photographs courtesy of candidates
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Two candidates seeking the federal Liberal nomination in the vacant Markham-Thornhill, Ont., riding are crying foul over the party’s handling of the nomination process, saying the party is “doing everything they can” to get Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s director of appointments, Mary Ng, elected as the candidate in next weekend’s nomination meeting.

“Mary Ng is the [Liberal] candidate,” said Markham businessman Nadeem Qureshi, who is one of the three candidates running for nomination in the riding. “That’s what the Liberal [party leadership] wants. There’s no doubt on that.”

Juanita Nathan, a Markham school board trustee, who is also running for the nomination, said she’s holding a press conference on Monday, Feb.27 to express her “serious concerns” about how the party is trying to get Ms. Ng elected as the Liberal candidate in the riding.

“I strongly feel the voice of the electorate must be heard and that it is imperative to the democratic process that all nomination candidates have an equal and fair chance to be selected to represent their political party in the upcoming by-elections,” Ms. Nathan told The Hill Times.

The two candidates expressed concerns about the fairness of the process last week after the party retroactively imposed a deadline for newly signed members to be eligible to cast votes in the nomination contest.

On Monday, Feb. 20, at about 7 p.m., the party sent out an email to Markham-Thornhill Liberal Party members, advising them that the nomination meeting will take place on Saturday, March 4. The same email also informed the riding association that only the members who signed up with the party by Feb. 14 are eligible to vote in the nomination contest.

Both Mr. Qureshi and Ms. Nathan said they did not know in advance that the cut-off date would be Feb. 14. Both candidates signed up more than two thousand members in total, but could not submit those memberships to the party because of the retroactive deadline. This means their newly signed up members will not be able to cast their votes in the nomination contest.

“What’s the logic behind the Feb. 14 deadline?” Mr. Qureshi said.

He said he questioned the Liberal Party about why the deadline was not announced in advance but never received any response.

Mr. Qureshi said he’s disappointed with the way the party has run the nomination contest and now he’s considering running as an Independent in the byelection.

“I’ve already started exploring the idea of running as an Independent candidate,” said Mr. Qureshi.

While he did not use the word himself, Mr. Qureshi said, “yes,” when asked by The Hill Times if he thinks the process is “rigged.”

Ms. Ng was not available for an interview with The Hill Times last week, but a spokeswoman for her campaign in an emailed response did not directly address allegations of rigged nomination process.

“Mary has broad support from local Liberals (including MPP Michael Chan and Khalid Usman) and community leaders and knows this will be a competitive and hard-fought nomination,” wrote Amanda Alvaro, referring to endorsements from Mr. Chan, Ontario’s International Trade minister, and Mr. Usman, a former city councillor for Markham. “She is working hard to earn the support and confidence of all residents of Markham-Thornhill.”

The nomination for this riding opened after Mr. Trudeau appointed former Immigration minister John McCallum as Canada’s ambassador to China last month. The Liberal Party is holding the nomination meeting to elect the candidate on Saturday, March 4 while the byelection is scheduled for April 3.

Even before the nomination contest opened up officially in the riding on Feb. 10, some potential candidates were not sure that the party would hold a fair, open, and transparent contest giving all candidates an equal opportunity.

After Ms. Ng, a close friend of Katie Telford, chief of staff to the prime minister, made her candidacy official on Feb. 15, several decided not to pursue the contest, privately saying it’s pointless to run because the party has decided it wants Mr. Trudeau’s senior adviser as the candidate.

Ms. Nathan and her supporters reached out to numerous Liberal MPs and the top party leadership, requesting intervention to get a fair nomination contest. When all attempts failed, she decided to hold a press conference.

Braeden Caley, the federal Liberal Party’s senior director of communications, also did not directly address allegations of a rigged nomination process allegations or why the party imposed a retroactive deadline.

In an email to The Hill Times, he said: “Following Mr. McCallum’s announcement that he would be leaving Parliament, registration for any new Liberals seeking to vote at the Markham-Thornhill nomination meeting continued to be open for an additional five weeks.”

“Local registered Liberals in Markham-Thornhill will be nominating their next Team Trudeau candidate on Saturday, March 4th, in line with all of the interim national nomination rules that are openly available on the party’s website.”

Mr. Caley did not say how many candidates have been green-lighted by the party. Ms. Alvaro confirmed to The Hill Times that Ms. Ng had been approved, while Ms. Nathan and Mr. Qureshi said they were still waiting for the party’s verdict, as of deadline last week. This means only Ms. Ng has so far had access to the complete riding association membership list, while the other two potential candidates had the list of only their own supporters.

It’s unclear if there are others besides these three running for the nomination.

Pierre Bocti, president of the federal Markham-Thornhill Liberal riding association, did not respond to an interview request last week.

Immigration Minister John McCallum, left, pictured with Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, has been appointed as Canada’s ambassador to China. He represented the riding of Markham-Thornhill before stepping down recently to take up his new diplomatic appointment. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Ms. Ng has about 20 years of public service experience and is the highest-ranking Chinese-Canadian to have ever served in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Markham-Thornhill, a riding that was rejigged prior to the 2015 election, is one of the most ethnically diverse 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.

If Mr. Qureshi proceeds with his plan to run independently in the upcoming byelection, it’s not clear how it will impact the Liberal Party’s chances of winning this riding again. The Markham businessman said he’s not concerned whether he’ll win this riding or not.

“Everything is not about winning or losing,” said Mr. Qureshi. “Contesting elections is not just for the sake of guaranteed winning.”

There are 33 ridings in the country with 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.

Other than Markham-Thornhill, four more ridings are vacant, including: Ottawa-Vanier, Ont.; Calgary Heritage, Alta., Calgary Midnapore, Alta; and Saint-Laurent, Que. Last week, Prime Minister Trudeau called byelections in all five of these ridings, and fixed April 3 as the election day.

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%

Humber River-Black Creek     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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