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Opinion

Liberal nomination process: so much for openness and transparency

By Tim Powers      

The Liberals need to watch these self-inflicted wounds. This behaviour could irk many of their millennial voting cohort who have little time for this old-school game playing.

The prime minister and Liberal leadership should have just straight-up said: 'We want Mary Ng to replace John McCallum,' argues Tim Powers. Ms. Ng, pictured, won her party's nomination for Markham-Thornhill, Ont. on March 4. Mary Ng Twitter account photograph
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OTTAWA—Old habits die hard. Witness the Liberal Party of Canada’s nomination process, if you can call it that, in Markham-Thornhill, Ont. where a former senior staffer in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office is now the Liberal candidate.

While I don’t know Mary Ng, the former director of appointments in Trudeau’s office and now the Liberal standard-bearer in Markham-Thornhill, those who do speak extremely highly of her. Based on her experience and pedigree, she has the potential to be an excellent Member of Parliament. She also would seem to be the type of candidate any party would want to recruit.

So why not end the charade? Stop pretending there is an open, fair nomination process when all manner of reports suggest otherwise. In the case of the Liberal contest in John McCallum’s old riding, it is hard not to conclude the books were cooked in Mary Ng’s favour.

Days after Ng stepped down from the PMO to explore a potential candidacy in that riding, a nomination meeting was called. Long-standing nomination candidates grumbled about what was happening on the ground. Whether sour grapes or not, it doesn’t help the government to have one of Ng’s competitors, Nadeem Qureshi, publicly allege “dirty tricks” were at play. Or another not-to-be candidate, Juanita Nathan, a local school board trustee, bail from the race, alleging the Liberals failed to have a fair nomination contest.

As reported earlier this week in The Hill Times, here is what Nathan said about what was at play in Markham-Thornhill: “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.” She went on to say, “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.”

That is a pretty stinging rebuke of the Liberal Party’s much-vaunted openness and transparency by one of their own. Opposition MPs are probably wishing they could have landed such an effective punch. The Liberals need to watch these self-inflicted wounds. While this one won’t likely have lasting implications, this doesn’t help Mary Ng as she starts her political career. And over time this behaviour will irk many of the party’s millennial voting cohort who have little time for this old-school game playing.

It is completely befuddling to me why neither the prime minister nor party leadership just didn’t straight-up say: “We want Mary Ng to replace John McCallum;” they should have. Most parties will give the leader the latitude to pick the people he wants. In this case, why would Liberals or anyone else have had issues with Trudeau picking Ng? A bright, able professional woman with a diverse background sounds like an excellent potential candidate to me.

Parties get in trouble when they create false perceptions about what they are doing. They engender bitterness first and foremost internally. That is never helpful to an organization. Party members elect leaders to lead, and more often than not they will give the leader what they want if the leader spells out their intentions.

Why was that so difficult to do for the Liberals in Markham-Thornhill? Yes, there were some people who had declared their interest in seeking office. But surely the Liberal Party leadership could have directly said to them and others: “We want Mary Ng. Here is why. This will be good for the team. Do you mind stepping aside for now?”

Sure there would be some short-term disappointment, but a little bit of transparency might have created the conditions for these people to rally around Ng instead of going through the motions of a sham nomination.

Tim Powers is vice-chairman of Summa Strategies and managing director of Abacus Data. He is a former adviser to Conservative political leaders.

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