View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Spinning Open Nominations April 1, 2014

Zach Paikin who pulled his nom over Trudeau Decision in Riding.
Zach Paikin who pulled his nom over Trudeau Decision in Riding.

CFN – The spin keeps coming from all of the federal parties and the new buzz words are “open nominations”.

Really? This is politics, just how gullible do they think the public is? I know everyone preaches it, but how realistic is it to expect there to be a true 100% open nomination contest.

It would be quite rare at the riding level for the executive not to have a favoured candidate. To begin with members of the executive carry out the candidate search and the executive usually has a sense as to who they think will make the best candidate. How cooperative they are with other potential candidates can encourage or discourage people from seeking the nomination.

Even if the executive has a preference, there is nothing to say that party headquarters won’t “suggest” they interview someone else. Smart executive members, especially if they have political ambitions of their own, listen closely to those suggestions from on high.

In a few cases, there will be only one person stepping forward (not unusual for the Conservatives in Quebec), but when a nomination is challenged all sorts of factors come into play.

Anyone who has been involved in the nomination process knows that this takes a huge effort.  How long the party allows for the sign up of new member’s tilts the selection one way or another. If party headquarters picks a short few weeks, it will favour an incumbent. Even lead time given to announce the nomination date plays a part in who can get organized, sign up new members or prepare for the nomination.

If we look back over the last year or so we have examples at both the provincial and federal level of either candidates deposit cheques arriving to late, deadlines that were supposedly missed, headquarters staff directly supporting one candidate over another or even disallowing a candidate because of their spouse. But it doesn’t end there.

There will also be star candidates that the party wants to run in a particular riding. And yes the parties will guarantee the media and public that it will be an open contest. Yet some potential challengers will be told that perhaps the party can find them a better riding for them to run in so the star can run in that particular riding. Another way it could happen is for the party to announce the star candidate will seek a particular seat and then call the nomination meeting as quickly as possible, catching potential challengers off guard and unable to organize or sign up new members in time.

Sitting MPs usually dread open nomination meetings. They often seek assurance that the party will help them win which publically of course the party can’t do and why should they? If you have held your seat for four years or more and you can’t win a nomination battle you have a big problem. Nor should there be any need for a leader’s office to offer or suggest a template for the MP to use that suggests that MP is hardworking, a valued member of the caucus etc. That in itself looks a lot like interference in an “open” nomination process.

The nomination process is a time to bring in new blood to the party, it’s a time to get rid of some of the dead wood and it helps to keep sitting MPs engaged both in Ottawa and more importantly with their riding and the people who elected them. When the process is over, party leaders will have lost some of their key people and find some they aren’t too keen on representing the party in the next election. That is the way it has been for decades.

Nomination battles are fascinating to watch and if you are part of one it is an exhilarating experience. Everyone always hopes that each individual seeking nomination will be treated fairly and in the same manner as all other candidates. You want to know that if you won or lost it was done fairly. The hype of “open nominations” will continue as all parties try to prove to the media and public that there is a new way of doing business now. Let us see how long it takes before we start hearing complaints from potential challengers about how they were dealt with during this “open” process.  I will suggest it will be sooner rather than later.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails. To sponsor this column please  email!

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