A Word on Two Retiring Incumbent MPs

October 19th, 2010

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Since I was last regularly blogging about Nomination News, we've had two more announcements from Liberal Members of Parliament who won't be re-offering in the next election.

First came Albina Guarnieri just before Parliament returned, when she shared the story of her 2006 diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis, and discussed how she decided to handle the issue of funding for trials of the experimental new treatment known as "liberation therapy" that's been a focus of so much attention recently.

A former press aide to Solicitor-General Robert Kaplan and Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton, Guarnieri was first elected to Parliament in 1988, winning the former seat of Mississauga East with a 4-percentage point margin over the Conservatives, but only after a winning not one but two HUGE Liberal nomination meetings, the details of which are documented in a William Johnson story from 1990 on her website.  It's an interesting and instructive story, that took place at a time of big changes within the Liberal Party, party politics in general, and developments in election law.  I hope to do it justice, but if some of the details are wrong, please correct them in the comments.

Starting in 1984, but picking up steam in 1988, a group of 4 party members from some of the ethnic communities whose members had always played significant but supporting roles in party nominations, decided they'd rather play leadership roles and joined forces to try and win some Liberal nominations.  The four were Armindo Silva, Tony Ianno, Joe Volpe and Jasbir Singh, two of whom were successful in unseating incumbents for their nominations — Volpe defeating Roland de Corneille in Eglinton-Lawrence, while Ianno defeated John Roberts in Trinity-Spadina. Singh ran in Etobicoke North, while Silva ran against Guarnieri in Mississauga East.

Guarnieri was not one of the group, and when it became clear she would not join forces with them (for example, supporting Roberts over Ianno) but still managed to win her own nomination anyway, a battle ensued which culminated in her consulting a lawyer, the Ontario executive of the party under Elvio DelZotto ordering a new nomination meeting, and Guarnieri winning the second meeting anyway.  At around the same time, another group of candidates supported by the Campaign Life Coalition and calling themselves "Liberals for Life" were also seeking and in some cases winning nominations, the most notable examples being Tom Wappel who defeated John Turner's hand-picked candidate Patrick Johnston in Scarborough West.  Liberals for Life National Coordinator Dan McCash launched his own nomination campaign in Etobicoke-Lakeshore for the 1993 election.

The combination of those two cases is what led in 1992 to the adoption of the rule allowing the by-then-leader Jean Chretien to appoint candidates, a policy that was sold as a way for him to recruit women candidates such as Jean Augustine, whom he appointed in Etobicoke-Lakeshore to head off McCash's bid for the nomination.  However, in her 1990 testimony before the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform (Lortie Commission), Guarnieri went much further and argued that Elections Canada itself should regulate nomination meetings to avoid the capricious misuse of party rules which she experienced, a position I'm personally more inclined to support than not, but which has to date never been acceptable to the majority of political parties, who would have to agree to amend the Elections Act to that effect.  The articles linked to on Guarnieri's website outline the practices she encountered in much more detail and would seem to support her position on the face of it.

Ms. Guarnieri went on to have an interesting career as a parliamentarian, which will undoubtedly be fully chronicled elsewhere before she steps down once and for all from elected politics.  But I thought political junkies would be most interested in her role at a critical time for the formation and reformation of political parties in Canada.  And to learn about the roles that many contemporary politicians played during that pivotal time.

The other MP to announce his retirement was four-term Charlottetown, PE Liberal M.P. Shawn Murphy, who told his caucus last Wednesday that he wouldn't be a candidate in the next election.  Murphy, who was a law partner of former premier Joe Ghiz and a past-president of the PEI Law Society, was first elected in 2000 in the pre-redistribution riding of Hillsborough, where he took over from three-term Liberal M.P. George Proud.  He was said to be weary of the weekly grind of travel to Ottawa, and looking forward to a "less intense" time in his life.  If there was any other back-story as to his resignation, I haven't read or heard it.

The Conservatives nominated candidates in both ridings long ago, and I think we can rate them both as Conservative targets.

We'll pick up with the nomination news in the open seats next time.


15 Responses to “A Word on Two Retiring Incumbent MPs”

  1. jad says:

    Thanks for the history lesson, Alice, it was fascinating. It certainly points up the constrast between the calibre and intensity of candidates running back then for the Liberals, and the rather apathetic lot currently.

  2. I had only remembered outlines of it myself, and had mis-remembered some parts of the story, so it was interesting for me to go back and refresh my memory about what happened. Glad you like it, jad.

  3. Shadow says:

    I would be interested to see some costing on any proposals to have Elections Canada conduct American style primaries.

    If its somewhere in the range of 300 million I would reject the idea out of hand.

    The argument usually used in defence of political parties being self governing is that they are like private clubs:

    There is a membership fee, nobody is forced to join, nobody is forced to vote for them, anyone can still run as an independent, etc.

    The only problem is that public financing of political parties (something I oppose) tends to undermine that argument.

    Private clubs shouldn’t be getting public money.

    So its certainly justifiable to proceed in either direction.

    Either:

    A) Remove public financing.

    B) Make membership in parties free, maintain a registry of voters’ partisan affiliation, and establish fixed date primaries.

  4. Shadow, I believe you’re identified the issues alright: to what extend is a political party a public body, and what privacy could therefore be accorded to its members and rules.

    I think a lot of Canadians might not want their party memberships publicly recorded. Political parties would not come under such questioning if their rules are fair, known to all affected participants, and fairly applied.

    Of course, the story we’re talking about occurred in 1988 before public financing (at least the quarterly allowance) came into effect.

    Anyways, it is a nuanced issue, but you’ve identified most of the debating points for sure.

  5. Shadow says:

    Hi Alice. The registration issue is a tricky one because it inserts another layer of paperwork into democracy.

    However, registration would be needed if nomination contests became legally binding to block internet organized groups from “crashing” a contest.

    Otherwise people would look at someone like Lawrence Cannon who won Pontiac with 32.7% and try to get the other 67.3% of voters to show up at his nomination contest and swamp his primary and elect a potato sack instead.

    I know such a campaign targeting Rob Anders has been thrown around for quite some time now.

    The current system has the benefit of reacting to any successful shenanigans by just setting aside the result.

  6. Which is a “benefit”, except to someone who participated in good faith, according to the rules, but is not who the party brass wanted.

    If this ever got litigated the right way, parties might not fare very well in it. Their best way of keeping it out of court is to behave well.

    If we were to move to a mixed-member proportional representation (MMPR) system, I would favour primaries for the province-wide party lists (an “open list”, much more than a party-selected “closed” list), but I haven’t fully thought through how I would feel about full-scale primaries in our current first past the post (FPTP) system.

    Ah well, food for thought.

  7. Ken Summers says:

    I dont know if theres much hope for “litigated well”.

    I’ve alwasy heard that the courts are very reluctant to weigh in on matters of internal consitutions [and all the other by-laws and precedents that weig in].

    I never considered that maybe the lack of serious and effective legal representation is a major factor, and dont know about that… but I’m still very skeptical this is a place the coutrs will ever want to dip into.

  8. William says:

    I think the best way to reform the nomination system without having to really change the fundamentals of the game would for nomination contests to have no membership cut off, similar to the Alberta PC leadership race a couple years back. People could come in, pay the nominal party membership fee, and go vote for the nomination candidate. I actually think this would help prevent so-called “instant” party members taking over an association, since the electorate is basically expanded to the entire population of the riding, so you would have to mobilze pretty broad, cross-community support in order to win a nomination.

  9. intheknow says:

    nice article, few facts wrong.
    Roberts was not incumbent, Aideen Nicholson was forced out. Albina did not ask for rerun of nomination that was Silva.

  10. Wilf Day says:

    In Germany, appointing candidates would be illegal.

    But isn’t Germany the place, you may ask, where half the MPs are elected on a party list? Aren’t they appointed? And anyway, can’t parties do whatever they like?

    No, and no. Germany has laws to guarantee democratic nominations.

    Why can’t Canada have laws making nominations democratic?

    Democratic nominations: why is Germany more democratic than Canada?

  11. Shadow says:

    Wilf I don’t see an appetite for European style “lists” in Canada.

    But parties should certainly move away from the practice of appointing star candidates. With so much incumbency decades can go by before an open nomination is held.

    Then again, we might never have had an MP named Michael Ignatieff if the rules you suggested were in place.

  12. Barcs says:

    absolutely, 100% opposed to closed lists (party lists). Especially if they are ranked into who gets the job. “1 through 97..you are in… 98 you don’t get the job.” Too much patronage trading to be on the list.

    AND, too many bad MP’s elected (re-elected) already under the current nomination by small group system….

    I would much rather see a system where several candidates are put forth by each party for election.

    Vote for your choice of party (including independent). Then multiple choice or ranked ballot for the candidates put forth by that party. Bad MP’s like Pankiw, Dosanjh, Jaffer, McCallum, Wasylycia-Leis, etc etc (who should never have been elected in the first place) should atleast have to compete on merit to keep their jobs.

    Why should a bad MP be handed another term based on the fact that the fact that the party they run for is popular in the riding? (and vice versa too)

    Prove to the people that you are doing a good job, you should be reelected. prove you are not… you should be turfed, but that doesn’t have to mean the people should have to vote for a party they don’t like to get rid of a bad MP.

  13. Thanks for taking the time to set us straight, ITK. I knew that some readers out there would have more intimate details and a better recollection than me.

    Roberts had been an MP before though, right? Because I remember him being a cabinet minister, and one of my fellow university politicos working for him during that time and his subsequent leadership run. I better look this up at the Library of Parliament. Stand by.

    http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Sites/LOP/HFER/hfer.asp?Language=E&Search=Det&Include=Y&rid=1266

    Ah, OK. John Roberts switched off with Conservatives (first Ron Atkey, later Barbara McDougall) in St. Paul’s riding between 1974 and 1984. In 1988, McDougall was reelected against another Liberal incumbent Aideen Nicholson, who had represented the riding of Trinity until 1984, after which it was redistributed into Trinity-Spadina, where Tony Ianno won the Liberal nomination in 1988 (losing the 1988 election to NDP incumbent Dan Heap, but defeating his replacement Winnie Ng after Heap’s retirement in 1993).

    http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Sites/LOP/HFER/hfer.asp?Language=E&Search=Det&Include=Y&rid=1266

    http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Sites/LOP/HFER/hfer.asp?Language=E&Search=Det&Include=Y&&rid=971

    Nicholson was being challenged by John Roberts for the nomination in St. Paul’s, then, in 1988. Do I have that right now, ITK?

  14. I can add to your history of Liberals for Life, and throw in a dash of John Roberts. Another riding association that they “took over” was Waterloo (now Kitchener-Waterloo). Their preferred candidate was a lawyer named Stephen Woodworth, and the traditional Liberals in the riding were apoplectic. With no one local willing to run for the nomination and lose, they actually parachuted in John Roberts, but he predictably lost the nomination.

    Woodworth tried for the nomination again in 1993, but was beaten by then Waterloo City Councillor Andrew Telegdi, who went on to serve as MP from 1993 to 2008 (and has been renominated to run again).

    Woodworth went on to serve as a Catholic school trustee from 1994 to 2003 (when he was defeated) and was known for holding up board business over issues like the sexual health curriculum (he wanted to ban public health nurses because they didn’t teach Catholic doctrine).

    Sadly, his political career was not over, as he resurfaced to win a contested Conservative nomination and then the 2008 election in Kitchener Centre.

    On an unrelated note, I appreciate the fact that you wrote that Chretien’s power of appointment was “sold as” a way to promote women candidates. In practice, it was used to appoint men like Art Eggleton, Ken Dryden and John McCallum as candidates, as they were deemed as too important to make them get their hands dirty with a nomination fight.

  15. Wilf Day says:

    You say “We’ll pick up with the nomination news in the open seats next time.” I hope you start with the fascinating Liberal race in Kingston and the Islands last Sunday Nov. 7.

    In a seat not won by the Conservatives federally since 1984 or provincially since 1981, the Liberal nomination was a prize. Within weeks of Peter Milliken’s retirement announcement, Kingston’s two-term Mayor Harvey Rosen sought the federal nomination, and did not re-offer as Mayor this fall. But the Dean of Law at Queen’s since 2005, Bill Flanagan, Vice-President of the riding association, had other ideas. The two titans were joined by a third star lawyer, young Bittu George who, starting after only one year in practice, had been elected to city council in 2003 and served as Deputy Mayor. And a fourth lawyer, whose wife Lisa Osanic had ended Bittu George’s municipal career in 2006: Philip Osanic, 17 years in practice, past-president of the riding association. A fifth highly-respected lawyer Robert Little declined to run and supported Dean Flanagan.

    And then there was Ted Hsu, son of a Queen’s Physics Professor. After leaving Kingston in 1984 to pursue studies and get a doctorate, spending almost ten years in nuclear energy in France and Canada, switching careers in 1994 and spending almost ten years as a merchant banker in Paris and Tokyo, he returned to Kingston a few years ago, joined the local Liberals, supported Stephane Dion for leader, took a job as ED of “Kingston’s Alternative Energy Cluster,” and became Treasurer of the riding association. Never elected to anything, he somehow emerged as the giant-killer. The riding association has not released the votes, nor who dropped when during the preferential ballot count. He had no big-name endorsements, but must have signed up a lot of members. Did he have the quiet support of Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, John Gerretsen?

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