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Liberals want input from MPs on nomination challenges, Mendès says most want ‘outright protection’

By Abbas Rana      

Liberal MP Alexandra Mendes says most of her caucus colleagues would go for 'outright protection.'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured at a caucus meeting last year on the Hill. Liberal MPs will soon submit their input to the party on what the nomination rules should be for the 2019 election cycle.
The Hill Times file photograph

Liberal MPs say the party brass is seeking input from them on nomination rules for held ridings for the 2019 election, and have asked them to provide concrete proposals by scheduling in-person or teleconference meetings with top Grit officials.

At last week’s two-day Liberal caucus retreat in Kelowna, B.C., top party officials, including president Anna Gainey and campaign co-chair Chris MacInnes, invited MPs to submit their input and feedback.

Liberal MPs told The Hill Times they would provide their input to the party after Parliament returns for the fall sitting on Sept. 18. They said their proposals would be mainly based on their past experience in seeking the party nomination and the 2015 election campaign.

“I will definitely be giving my suggestions on nominations to the party,” rookie Liberal MP Deborah Schulte (King-Vaughan, Ont.) told The Hill Times, though she declined to share her ideas.

Braeden Caley, senior director of communications to the Liberal Party, told The Hill Times in an email that the party is currently in the process of holding a “comprehensive” consultation process to figure out the nomination rules for 2019. In this process, he said, the party is consulting registered Liberals, caucus members, past candidates, riding associations, commissions, and provincial and territorial boards. He declined to say when the rules would be finalized.

Liberal MP Chris Bittle, left, pictured with his special assistant Peter Opdam. Photograph courtesy Chris Bittle’s Twitter

Liberal MP Chris Bittle (St. Catharines, Ont.) told The Hill Times he would also provide his feedback and input to the party in the fall. He declined to share specifics, but said that rural and urban ridings should have different rules because of different electoral dynamics.

“I’m certain the party appreciates the different realities, not only between urban/rural, but different parts of the country,” said Mr. Bittle. “These are the discussions that we’ll have and I look forward to having those discussions.”

Just before the start of the summer parliamentary recess, Liberal MPs told The Hill Times they want Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) to protect them from nomination challenges. They said elected MPs spend about half a year in Ottawa to perform their parliamentary work, but their potential challengers have the opportunity to spend this time to sign up new people.

“When you get into a nomination fight, Members of Parliament have to be in Ottawa and they’ve got an obligation to carry forth the government’s agenda here, and so by default they have to be in Ottawa to carry forth that agenda, so they’re needed here,” veteran Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I.), who won his eighth-term in 2015, told The Hill Times in July, and added that elected MPs could face “someone in the riding basically undermining them and going for that nomination when they don’t have those obligations to be here and to support the legislative agenda that we’re carrying forth.”

At the time, Liberal MP Alexandra Mendès (Brossard-Saint-Lambert, Que.) also told The Hill Times that she and most of her caucus colleagues wouldn’t mind if the party opted to set certain targets, and MPs who meet those targets were protected. She suggested that MPs representing urban ridings could be required to have 200 to 500 riding association members and rural MPs to have 100 members. Also, Ms. Mendes said, MPs should be required to raise $75,000 to $80,000 by the end of their four-year mandate.

Liberal MP Alexandra Mendès, right, pictured with Liberal MP Hedy Fry. The Hill Times photograph by Cynthia Münster

“Most [MPs], I would say, would go for being protected, outright protection,” Ms. Mendès said in July. “They can live with some sort of criteria that will guarantee our nomination, but most would love to have outright protection.”

Liberal MPs are also nervous about nomination challenges because of Mr. Trudeau’s decision last year to abolish the $10 party membership fee. Now, anyone can register with the party and participate in all party activities, including voting in nomination meetings and party leadership elections, the same rights that paid members had before. Also, registered Liberals can take part in the policy development process and attend riding association meetings.

In comparison, the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party still charge membership fees. The Conservative Party charges $15 for a yearly party membership, and the New Democratic Party membership fee varies from province to province, ranging between no fee in Newfoundland and Labrador to as much as $25 in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

Before becoming prime minster, Mr. Trudeau promised free, fair, and open nomination contests in all 338 ridings across the country. But prior to the 2015 election, there were numerous ridings across the country where unsuccessful nomination contestants accused the party leadership of playing favourites. Now, it remains to be seen if the party leadership protects incumbent MPs from nomination challenges before the 2019 election, or sets targets that could save them from going through the divisive process.

For any political party leader, one of the key challenges is to keep backbenchers happy. One way that some party leaders choose to do that is by protecting incumbent MPs from nomination challenges, or coming up with rules that almost guarantee wins for sitting MPs.

Prior to every election, winning the nomination for the next election is every incumbent’s preoccupation. Although MPs have an overwhelming advantage because of their name recognition, ability to raise funds, and usually supportive riding association executives, they still try to avoid going through the nomination process. This is chiefly because in an open and fair contest, any MP could lose his or her nomination. These fights especially become more intense for parties in government or the ones who are perceived to form government in the next election.

The Conservative Party is also currently holding its own internal discussions about nomination rules in held ridings. The Conservative Party told MPs in 2016 that they could avoid nomination challenges if their riding association could raise $150,000 and sign up at least one per cent of eligible voters as riding association members. For MPs who were able to meet these conditions by April of next year, the party would hold a vote amongst ridings association members on whether there should a nomination contest or not. If more than one-third voted in favour of holding a contest, the party would arrange one. If less than one-third asked for one, the sitting MP would be acclaimed as the candidate.

Some rural Conservative MPs did not support these rules, arguing the amount of money required to be raised was too high, as fundraising is harder in rural areas compared to urban ones. In interviews with The Hill Times, they also said the party never consulted them before coming up with the funding and membership targets.

Former Conservative MP Joe Preston, now a member of the Conservative Party’s national council, told The Hill Times last week, the council is meeting in Ottawa in October and that the nomination rules for incumbent MPs is one of the key agenda items for this meeting.

“There’s a variety of opinions in a grassroots organization like our party,” Mr. Preston said last week.

The NDP does not protect sitting MPs from nomination challenges, and requires that all caucus members win their nomination. The New Democrats have never formed government federally and has attained the status of the official opposition only once. Because of this, NDP MPs do not face the same serious nomination challenges that Liberal and Conservative MPs face.

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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