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Despite Liberals’ ‘dirty tricks’ in Markham-Thornhill nomination, Qureshi decides not to run as Independent for sake of Grit party unity

By Abbas Rana      

Juanita Nathan says Markham-Thornhill has 'been robbed' of a fair nomination, but Jack Siegel says the Liberal Party has been retroactively posting nomination deadlines for 25 years.

Technology entrepreneur Afraj Gill, left, businessman Nadeem Qureshi and senior PMO staffer Mary Ng ran for Liberal nomination in Markham-Thornhill. Juanita Nathan, right, withdrew her name from the contest citing lack of fairness and transparency in the nomination contest. Photographs courtesy of candidates
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A Markham-Thornhill Liberal nomination candidate, who was considering running as an Independent in the April 3 byelection because of the party’s nomination “dirty tricks,” has decided not to run against his own party in order to prevent Conservatives from taking advantage of divisions among Liberals in the riding.

Businessman Nadeem Qureshi, a Muslim Canadian, told The Hill Times that Liberal MP Iqra Khalid’s (Mississauga-Erin Mills, Ont.) Islamophobia motion was another reason for him to stay in the party fold and to support the party “no matter what.” He said he knew the outcome of the March 4 nomination meeting in advance and expressed concerns to The Hill Times about the process two weeks ago, but still decided to stay in the race until the end for the sake of party unity.

“Because of Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, no matter what happens to the Liberal Party, no matter what dirty tricks, as a community, we still have to support Liberals,” Mr. Qureshi said in a phone interview last week with The Hill Times.

Ms. Khalid, a rookie Liberal MP, introduced a private member’s motion M-103 or Islamophobia motion, in December, which the House debated last month. The motion called on the federal government to recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear, to condemn all forms of Islamophobia and to instruct the House Heritage Committee to undertake a study on how the government can address this issue. In and out of Parliament, some Conservative MPs and leadership candidates challenged the motion and said they won’t vote for it in its current form.

During the debate on the motion in the House, Ms. Khalid said she received close to 50,000 messages from Canadians that included some racist and nasty hate messages. Her constituency office also received angry phone calls from some who blasted her motion. The Peel Regional Police told reporters they were investigating some of the messages and offered protection to Ms. Khalid and her constituency office.

Markham-Thornhill, a newly rejigged riding, opened up for the nomination contest in January after Immigration minister John McCallum was appointed as Canada’s ambassador to China. A second, Quebec riding of Saint-Laurent also opened up at the same time when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) appointed Foreign Affairs minister Stéphane Dion as Canada’s ambassador to the EU and Germany.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Qureshi had told The Hill Times that he was exploring the possibility of running as an Independent candidate in the upcoming byelection. He considered the option because he said the Liberal Party was holding a “one-sided contest” to get Mr. Trudeau’s director of appointments, Mary Ng, elected as the Liberal candidate. Ms. Ng is a close friend of Katie Telford, chief of staff to prime minister Trudeau. But Mr. Qureshi said he opted not to run as an Independent because he’s concerned the Liberal vote will be divided, paving the way for the Conservatives to win the riding. Ms. Ng won the nomination contest on Saturday, March 4.

“I’m not a person jumping around parties,” said Mr. Qureshi. “That’s unethical. What’s going on with Iqra Khalid, the [Muslim] community has to support. …If I go Independent, why should I screw the Liberals? Why should I risk their position? Maybe that’s what the Conservatives want.”

Mr. Qureshi said it was his own decision to stay in the Liberal fold and that he did not consult Ms. Khalid before making his decision.

Meanwhile, Juanita Nathan, a Markham school board trustee, dropped out of the race Thursday night accusing the party of failing to hold a fair nomination contest as promised by Mr. Trudeau after he became party leader. Ms. Nathan said she tried unsuccessfully to reach out to the party leadership to get a fair shot at the contest, but in the end had no option but to withdraw from the race, two days prior.

“Unfortunately, my appeal for a fair nomination process has gone unheard by the party leadership.  I am deeply disappointed that the Liberal Party of Canada has failed to act, despite its promised commitment to an open and fair nomination process,” Ms. Nathan said in her statement. “I would like to reiterate what I perceive to be the concerns in the Liberal nomination process in Markham-Thornhill including: the lack of transparency in determining the nomination meeting, the lack of consultation with all members of the local riding association, and the unrealistic and expedited timeframe for membership cut offs preventing new Liberal members from participating in nominating their next representative.”

Afraj Gill, a technology entrepreneur, was the third candidate in the riding. He declined to discuss questions related to the fairness of the process. He said his main focus in the nomination was to talk about issues such as universal basic income, robot taxation, education tax credit, automation-prone industries and recognition of education credentials of new immigrants.

A fourth candidate Ali Manek, a former Markham teacher and founder of international aid agency Our Village, dropped out of the race on Feb. 26 throwing his support behind Ms. Ng.

Both Ms. Nathan and Mr. Qureshi had raised red flags about the lack of fairness, two weeks before the nomination meeting. In interviews with The Hill Times, they pointed out to the Feb. 20 email from the party that retroactively imposed the Feb. 14 deadline for newly signed members to be eligible to vote in the contest. Because of the surprise retroactive deadline, more than 2,000 supporters of Ms. Nathan and Mr. Qureshi were disenfranchised from the nomination meeting, the candidates said. But, the Liberal Party countered that the party’s nomination rules allow them to introduce retroactive deadlines.

Jack Siegel, national chair of the party’s Green Light Committee, wrote in a Facebook post that the party has been using retroactive deadlines for 25 years. He stated the retroactive deadlines are aimed to prevent candidates from overwhelming party resources by submitting their newly signed members list in large blocks right before the nomination meeting.

“The Liberal Party has had retroactive blind cut-offs for close to 25 years,” wrote Mr. Siegel last week. “The idea is to prevent candidates from hoarding memberships (now registered Liberal forms) and engaging in “nomination by ambush” (dumping thousands of forms at the deadline, keeping their signups secret and overloading the party’s membership systems with the flood of forms, all in urgent need of inputing) and denying the party and its new adherents the opportunity to become aware of one another.”

But Alan DeSousa, mayor of the borough of Saint-Laurent who is running for Liberal Party nomination in the Quebec riding, told The Hill Times on March 2, that the party had not announced any retroactive deadline on new membership sign ups in the riding. He also said the party had not announced any nomination date.

Alan DeSousa wants to run for Liberal nomination in the Quebec riding of Saint-Laurent. The Liberal Party barred him from seeking Liberal nomination in the riding, late last month, for unknown reasons.

The party barred Mr. DeSousa late last month from seeking Liberal nomination for unknown reasons. The mayor filed an appeal with the party to reconsider its decision, but, as of deadline last week, the party had not made any decision.

The Liberal Party, in its emailed response to The Hill Times, did not say why the party imposed a retroactive deadline in Markham-Thornhill, but did not do the same in Saint-Laurent when the nomination contest started at the same time as Markham-Thornhill’s. The byelections will also take place at the same time in both ridings.

“The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to open nomination processes in both Saint-Laurent and Markham-Thornhill, and all aspects of the process have been in line with national nomination rules that have been openly posted on the party’s website since last fall,” wrote party spokesman Braeden Caley in his response. “Each riding will have had a number of weeks for new supporters to register as Liberals and participate in an open nomination vote, in addition to eligible registered Liberals who have been involved for many months or years.”

Ms. Nathan said she was surprised to learn the party is using two different sets of rules in both ridings. She said she never understood why the party rushed the nomination process in Markham-Thornhill. Ms. Nathan cited the example of the Ottawa area riding of Ottawa-Vanier, which became vacant in August after the death of Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, but the nomination contest happened last month. In comparison, Markham-Thornhill officially opened up on Feb. 6 and the nomination contest took place on March 4. For this nomination, the application forms for potential candidates became available on Feb. 10. The retroactive deadline for new membership sign up was Feb. 14.

After a riding becomes vacant, the prime minister has up to six months to call a byelection.

In the last election, Mr. McCallum carried this riding with 55.7 per cent of the vote compared to second-place Conservative candidate Jobson Easow who garnered 32.3 per cent, and third place NDP candidate Senthi Chelliah won 10.7 per cent. The riding 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 the riding are Chinese with 35.2 per cent of the population and South Asians with 30.8 per cent. The 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.

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.

Besides Markham-Thornhill and Saint-Laurent, three more ridings are vacant, including: Ottawa-Vanier, Ont.; Calgary Heritage, Alta. and Calgary Midnapore, Alta. Prime Minister Trudeau called byelections in all five of these ridings, two weeks ago, and fixed April 3 as the election day.

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