Liberals trigger ‘national electoral urgency’ clause to bypass nomination rules, 10 weeks from election

By Abbas Rana

Some potential candidates say they’re concerned the party could use the ‘electoral urgency’ provision to play around with the rules in order to get their preferred candidates nominated, especially in winnable ridings.

With the next federal election only 10 weeks away and about 100 ridings without nominated candidates, the federal Liberals have triggered a “national electoral urgency” clause that allows the party to bypass the nomination process and appoint candidates directly, making some would-be candidates nervous they might not get a fair shot in the nomination contests.

Liberal Party communications director Braeden Caley confirmed in an email to The Hill Times that the party has imposed an “administrative provision” to complete the nomination process as soon as possible. The Liberal Party constitution allows the national campaign chair to declare electoral urgency, nationally or in one or more electoral districts. During that period, the chair gets the “unfettered discretion” to change the timelines and procedures in the candidate nomination process.

“In any such state of electoral urgency, the national campaign chair or their designate may alter the timelines and procedures fixed by these rules in such manner as he or she, in their sole and unfettered discretion, may see fit, for any electoral district(s), provided that any changes to these rules so enacted shall forthwith be communicated in writing to any potential or qualified nomination contestant (of whom the national campaign chair has knowledge) who may be affected,” states the party constitution. “The failure of any such person to receive such notice shall not invalidate the declaration of electoral urgency.”

The next federal election is scheduled for Oct. 21, and the writs are expected to be issued at some point during the first two weeks of next month. As of last week, Mr. Caley said in the email, the party had nominated 235 of the 338 candidates, and another 12 nominations are expected to be completed by this week. He said that the party has chosen to impose the electoral urgency clause in the past.

“These are longstanding administrative provisions that always come into effect at this stage of the run-up to a major campaign, as they have before each of the last few general elections and by-elections, to help finalize the last few steps of the Liberal nominations process across Canada,” said Mr. Caley in an email to The Hill Times. “As always, all of the associated EDA Chairs, PTB Chairs, and regional campaign chairs were notified.”

Two Liberal MPs say the party also declared electoral urgency before the last federal election.

As of last week, the Conservatives had nominated 327 candidates and the NDP had nominated 133 candidates.

Rookie Liberal MP Kim Rudd, pictured with former Governor General David Johnston, is a co-chair of the Ontario campaign for the upcoming federal election. She said the party declared electoral urgency in the last two federal elections as well. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia.

In the last election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), led the Liberals from third-party status in the House with 34 seats to a majority government win, with 184 ridings across the country. In the lead-up to the upcoming election, all incumbent MPs seeking re-election have been protected from going through the nomination process, provided they meet certain conditions related to fundraising and memberships.

The party constitution spells out specific timelines and processes to elect candidates through nomination meetings under normal circumstances. For example, to call a nomination meeting, the constitution requires the national chair give a notice of 14-28 days. Similarly, members eligible to vote in a nomination meeting are required to be members between two and seven days before the nomination date is announced. But, with the declaration of electoral urgency, the chair could call the meeting any time, and could choose to ignore any rule.

Some Liberals who are seeking the party’s nomination and waiting for the meeting to be called in their ridings, however, are getting nervous that the party could now end up appointing candidates instead of giving them a fair chance of competing for the role. They are also concerned the party could use the ‘electoral urgency’ to play around with the rules in order to get their preferred candidates nominated, especially in winnable ridings. They say the Liberal Party had four years to complete the nomination process, and asked why it did not hold nomination meetings further ahead of time, instead of waiting and resorting to the electoral urgency clause. They add that recent polling numbers that put the Conservatives and the Liberals neck and neck, and their riding should have had a nominated candidate by this time to allow plenty of time for campaigning.

“We’re still waiting for the nomination to be called,” said one key organizer for a nomination candidate who requested anonymity for fear of retribution for his candidate.

“Every day, there’s a new rumour. The party, in the end, may appoint a candidate. Our [nomination] campaign is prepared, and we are confident we can win. But, because of the electoral urgency, we’re worried, the party may appoint their preferred candidate, or play around with the rules to get in their preferred candidate. There have been numerous examples in the past. This is not fair,” said the organizer.

The source said that rumours have begun to float around about who the party would appoint as candidates since the party triggered the urgency clause. For example, in the riding of Don Valley North, Ont., some are speculating that former Ontario Liberal MPP Han Dong, who is a potential nomination candidate, could be appointed to carry the party’s banner in the election. Mr. Dong denied the rumour in an interview with The Hill Times. He said the nomination process in the riding has not opened up, and he has no indication that he would be appointed. Instead, Mr. Dong said he does not believe the party would appoint anyone, and hoped the candidate would be elected through an open and fair nomination process.

“It’s baseless,” said Mr. Dong. “Of course, I appreciate the support, and there are a lot of former colleagues, and friends, when I first announced the interest to run, it was welcome. I appreciate the support, but I haven’t heard any plans of appointment.”

Mr. Dong said the party should hold the nomination meeting as soon as possible as the election is drawing near. He said the Conservatives nominated their candidate entrepreneur Sarah Fischer in the riding months ago, and she is already campaigning. Mr. Dong said if the party had nominated a candidate in the riding, it would have allowed the candidate to campaign and build name recognition in the riding earlier.

“Any day going by without a candidate is not a good movement towards winning this riding,” said Mr. Dong.

Lawyer Ban Gu Jiang, also a potential candidate in Don Valley North, confirmed to The Hill Times she’s already campaigning for the nomination in the riding, but declined to offer any comment for this article.

Dr. Xinglai Laura Huang, wife of outgoing Liberal MP Geng Tan, is also running for the nomination, but she did not respond to interview requests from The Hill Times.

The riding of Don Valley North opened up in mid-June after Mr. Tan made the surprising announcement that he won’t seek re-election in October, preferring to spend time with his family. He’s facing allegations from his former constituency office staffer and girlfriend Ying (Stella) Yu that both have a two-year-old baby girl together but the MP is not providing child support. Mr. Tan denied the allegation in a brief telephone interview with The Hill Times in June, saying that he was merely a sperm donor to Ms. Yu, but declined to discuss the issue any further. Ms. Yu has also alleged she was fired from her constituency office job without cause, and was let go because Ms. Huang didn’t want her to stay in the job.

Mr. Tan and Ms. Yu are now engaged in an ongoing legal battle.

Although Mr. Tan had said he was stepping down to spend time with his family, Ms. Huang, his wife, is seeking the nomination in the same riding. Prior to his announcement that he won’t seek re-election, Mr. Tan was the nominated candidate for the October election. He was first elected in the 2015 election by a margin of about 11 per cent of the vote.

Meanwhile, Liberal MP Kim Rudd (Northumberland-Peterborough South, Ont.), Ontario co-chair of the Liberal campaign, told The Hill Times that she ran in the last two elections and both times electoral urgency was declared. She said the key reason for using this provision is to get the nominations done as soon as possible, because the next election campaign will start within a month’s time.

“That’s pretty standard. It’s been done in the two previous elections that I ran in,” said Ms. Rudd.

Rookie Liberal MP Ken Hardie (Fleetwood-Port Kells, B.C.) said the Liberal Party used the electoral urgency provision in the last election as well. He said the potential candidates could use the time they have now to complete the paper work and sign up new members. As for the possibility of appointing candidates in ridings, Mr. Hardie declined a comment, saying he does not know if the party would do that in any riding.

The Hill Times 

Abbas Rana

Abbas Rana is the assistant deputy editor of The Hill Times.

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