After blaming “insiders” for his decision to pull out from the NDP leadership race less than two months after entering, Pat Stogran says the real reason was far more nefarious: someone within the party had crossed the line, sharing “a malicious and unfounded” story that he thought would harm his family.
Party insiders and people who know him paint a picture of an outsider who brought a breath of fresh air to the race but who didn’t understand the tremendous work required to mount a serious leadership bid.
A media outlet “was investigating a malicious and unfounded story passed to them by political insiders,” which invaded the privacy of “family members,” had no business being public, and “amounted to harassment,” said Mr. Stogran, best known as Canada’s outspoken first federal veterans ombudsman who served in the Canadian military for over 30 years. He pulled from the race June 3.
The retired Canadian Armed Forces colonel wouldn’t comment further on the allegations, and when asked if the “insiders” responsible were connected to another leadership campaign or the party, he said “a combination of both.”
“They’re not mutually exclusive. It was a deliberate attempt and there was collusion…but suffice to say it was enough for me to say it was not worth me putting my reputation on the line and my personal finances in jeopardy to try and bring a party that is dysfunctional as the NDP together to take on politics incorporated,” said Mr. Stogran in a June 12 interview.
Canada’s New Democrats said the party had not received “any complaints or information regarding harassment with regards to the leadership race.”
“We take any allegations of harassment and bullying very seriously and it should not be tolerated,” said NDP national director Robert Fox by email when asked to comment on Mr. Stogran’s allegations.
Many NDP insiders said they were confused by Mr. Stogran’s vague announcement of his departure from the race via a five-minute video posted on YouTube in which he cited the need for party reform and the importance of his family as reasons for quitting. The party’s former interim national director Karl Bélanger said these latest allegations shed some more light on Mr. Stogran’s decision to leave.
“The tone of his video…he seemed genuinely upset. This would explain that. Most people thought it was about the rules in place to join the race,” said Mr. Bélanger, president of the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation, who noted that despite being an outsider Mr. Stogran was putting forward a serious effort. “This opens a totally different door.”
Mr. Bélanger, former principal secretary to outgoing leader Thomas Mulcair, said the “serious allegations” could be investigated by the party’s chief electoral officer if an official complaint is lodged.
When asked if he planned to do so, Mr. Stogran said “no.” But he suggested he hoped the party would forgive some of his almost $60,000 in campaign costs, which included a $30,000 “non-refundable” registration fee and $25,000 he forwarded his campaign out of his own pocket.
“As far as I’m concerned, myself and the party, I have nothing to do with them,” said Mr. Stogran, who also said fundraising proved problematic. His supporters had technical difficulties using the party’s website to donate, he said. The party should “accept some degree of responsibility for their administrative effectiveness and our inability to capitalize on the early surge of support that we had in terms of me perhaps not having to go into debt on my own behalf.”
Mr. Fox said all campaigns encountered difficulties as the party rolled out new online tools, which “were corrected several weeks ago.”
“The party has also done everything in its power to minimize the consequences on candidates,” he said.
Not all campaigns responded to The Hill Times‘ query whether their camps had any role in Mr. Stogran’s allegations, though Charlie Angus’ (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.) campaign emailed “no” and Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.) said in a brief interview “we do not campaign that way.”
“I quite frankly would be surprised that any of the campaigns have been involved in that,” he added.
Niki Ashton’s office (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, Man.) said it was concerned about the allegations and “there is no room for attacks of this nature in politics,” while Jagmeet Singh and Guy Caron (Rimouski Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, Que.) did not respond to emailed requests for comment by print deadline.
In interviews last week prior to Mr. Stogran’s allegation of harassment, several NDP insiders took exception to his assertion that the party is “fundamentally flawed” with insiders blocking his way and putting “obstacles in place for candidates trying to grow the party’s base from the grassroots.”
Navigator senior consultant Sally Housser said if a person is seeking to lead a political party they should have an understanding of its culture and the way the party structure works.
“I think it’s unfortunate he felt that frustration, but at the same time I don’t think a party structure can completely change to accommodate somebody because they’ve never had any experience with that party structure before,” said Ms. Housser, who worked as deputy national director of the federal NDP during the 2012 leadership race.
Former NDP national director Robin Sears said the party has been open to outsiders as leaders, including Jack Layton, whom Housser also pointed to as an example. The late Mr. Layton won the party leadership in 2003, a year before he first was elected as an MP.
“This is the sort of comment you get from someone who has put their toe in the water, discovered it is very cold, and leapt back,” said Mr. Sears, a principal of Earnscliffe Strategy Group, by email. “He might want to ask himself why he received such a chilly reception.”
Longtime former NDP veteran affairs critic and current Capital Hill group associate Peter Stoffer said he’d spoken to Mr. Stogran about six months ago and encouraged him to run. While he hadn’t himself encountered the complaints Mr. Stogran made about the party, he said the NDP is “going through an awful lot of challenges right now.”
“To be frank with you, he obviously had some dealings with people in the party that probably weren’t favourable in this regard, but I haven’t spoken to him,” said Mr. Stoffer, who, like Mr. Stogran, has been critical of the party’s connection to unions, noting it only pulls in about 15 per cent of the labour vote.
Some criticism of the party may be warranted, said Ms. Housser, but every candidate faces challenges.
“I think that the federal party seemed to me…to really do a good job of trying to get him in and accommodate that first debate,” said Ms. Housser, who isn’t supporting any candidate but signed Mr. Stogran’s nomination papers to help him get in the race after Mr. Angus noted the candidate was having troubles meeting the requirements.
“There’s some criticisms that are reasonable to be made, but not as strongly as that.”
Several people interviewed praised Mr. Stogran’s passion for making a difference, but described him as a warrior and not a politician. He was a well-intentioned candidate and a breath of fresh air, several said, but one who didn’t have a true understanding of the type of organization, fundraising, and structure needed to run for leader.
“I definitely didn’t,” replied Mr. Stogran, who has described being a politician “distasteful” but said he thought he could change “politics incorporated” from within. “I had huge support coming my way from disaffected individuals from the NDP” and from those disillusioned with other parties, he said.
He had about 20 people working for his campaign across the country, including those he said were “experienced campaigners.” Neither campaign director Patrick McCoy nor communications director Jessica Pointon responded to interview requests. Ms. Pointon took over for Cam Holmstrom, who said by phone he left the role three weeks before for family reasons and had no comment.
Alice Funke of the website Pundits’ Guide said it wasn’t clear Mr. Stogran had “a complete set of expectations” about the demands of a leadership contest, with so much to learn for someone new to electoral politics.
A leadership bid needs a campaign manager with contacts across the country, chairpeople in every province, strong social media engagement, and, first and foremost, “effective fundraisers,” she added.
On Facebook and Twitter, the leading NDP contenders had between three and 10 times his following.
Veterans advocate Jerry Kovacs said he offered to help Mr. Stogran’s campaign about two weeks ago but “he declined my offer.” Though not a member of the NDP, Mr. Kovacs said he offered “because of the connection” and thought Mr. Stogran could fill a political “void” on veterans issues.
But watching from the outside, Mr. Kovacs didn’t see the efforts he would expect, like reaching out to veterans groups to secure endorsements.
“I just never saw any evidence of campaign organization,” said Mr. Kovacs, adding he’s run for city council and provincial politics and worked with several MPs. “He was entering a world which he knew very little about.”
Even so, Mr. Stogran said he was a serious candidate and Mr. Bélanger regarded him as such, pointing to Mr. Holmstrom’s campaign involvement and other longtime NDP staffers who knew what they were doing.
“I am tens of thousands of dollars in debt now. Would I have risked that on a whim?” said Mr. Stogran, who said the party is partly to blame for what has happened to him, pointing to a proverb: “A fish rots from the head down.”
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