Brandon Liberal nomination over before it starts, while some Conservatives still fuming
[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]
Before the Brandon-Souris contested Liberal nomination meeting could even be called, the race is all over but the victory lap, as candidate Frank Godon withdrew from the race late Friday.
Is the Wheat City really where open nominations go to die, and democracy develops some kind of weird gluten intolerance?
Not if you take everyone at face value. But let's lay out the chronology and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions.
When we last checked in with this "Westman" (i.e., west Manitoba) riding, Progressive Conservative MLA Larry Maguire (Arthur-Virden) had just been acclaimed the federal Conservative candidate, after Brandon city councillor Len Isleifson withdrew from the race, and former Merv Tweed aide, Chris Kennedy, was mysteriously disqualified (in his mind) and/or did not make the cut-off to submit his completed nomination papers (according to CPC HQ).
The Kennedy case is perplexing to outsiders, since Kennedy is adamant that the deposit cheque was affixed to his nomination papers, and that the papers should have arrived in time given he couriered them Tuesday for a Wednesday deadline; while party headquarters is apparently equally adamant to the contrary.
But the Conservative HQ version is just not sitting well in Brandon, where former Manitoba PC-turned-reluctant-Conservative M.P. Inky Mark is enjoying a bit of an "I-told-you-so", and local commentators are quite shocked at the happenings. Here, for example, is an exerpt from James O'Connor's editorial from the Brandon Sun:
Geez, I’m getting angrier as I write this.
As a former member of the provincial Tories (when I worked for them) and a veteran right-winger in the bloodsport of politics, I am ashamed of the shenanigans which have beset the Conservative nomination process in Brandon-Souris.
And I’m not alone. I hear memberships are being returned to the Tories from people who are also just seething over the injustice.
So I’m supposed to believe that Isleifson — the deputy mayor of Brandon — is lying?
Or am I supposed to believe that a man as smart as Kennedy, who quit his job and was for the past month driving hundreds of kilometers each day and had a solid and star-studded campaign team to bolster support and sell memberships for his nomination run, is lying?
And what about the statement regarding flexibility in "condensed timelines" made by Barker, the local nomination committee member. Was that a lie?
Or am I supposed to believe that the Conservative Party of Canada has lied?
And what do I make of Maguire’s handlers, several of whom are young former Westman political operatives who now work in Toronto and Ottawa?
In fact, it was one of those operatives, [...], who personally flew to Ottawa to hand-deliver a bundle of memberships Maguire’s team had sold.
Of the situation, Maguire said publicly last week: "All I can say is what I heard from my people."
This is not about Maguire.
I believe he is a pawn in this whole slimy game.
See, I told you tempers were flaring! The rest of the (very long) column is equally scorching. It's behind a firewall, but if you register with the site you can read the whole thing.
Kennedy, though young, is considered hard-working and whip-smart (and not just in the lip-service way that mavericks are always considered to be, by concern-trolls who want to mau-mau their party, but actually really hard-working and whip-smart), and many thought he had an early leg up on the race. Given the strong and widespread belief that the 2010 Conservative by-election nomination in Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette had been heavily tilted in Robert Sopuck's favour, people are doubly inclined to believe the worst in the case of Kennedy v. Conservative central campaign.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the two Manitoba Conservative acclamations last weekend, and the consequent possibility of snap by-election calls, the Liberals moved first to set their nomination meeting day in Provencher for Wednesday, September 25, then confirmed leader Justin Trudeau's attendance at it, then confirmed Trudeau's visit to Brandon the day before (on Tuesday, September 24).
At more or less this exact moment, Frank Godon announced, first privately and then publicly, that he intended to withdraw from the Liberal nomination race in Brandon, and endorse Rolf Dinsdale, a mere two weeks after getting into the race in the first place.
Godon maintains that he needed to spend more time taking care of his elderly parents, and also wanted to do what was best for the party to give them the best opportunity of winning the by-election (ie, not having to have a "byelection" to run, he tweeted, though I think he meant a "nomination"), and he emphasizes that he was not pressured to do so by anyone higher up. Equally, Rolf Dinsdale has said on Twitter that he would prefer to have an open nomination.
But we can also note that the timing of Godon's withdrawal: a) came conveniently just in time for Trudeau to meet his now-lone presumptive nominee in Brandon on his swing through Manitoba, and b) miraculously happened just before the editor of the Brandon Sun decided to endorse the Liberal candidate in the wake of the apparent Conservative shenanigans.
Again, this is probably all on the up-and-up; but on the other hand, by-elections are a marvellous environment for coincidence*.
In any event, my Manitoba sources don't believe this fracas will amount to too much in the end. The Conservatives would still be expected to win Brandon-Souris handily thanks to the rural areas, though perhaps a little less so this time; while the NDP will almost certainly come a distant second like they always do, say my (non-NDP) sources. The Liberals have not had much on the ground in the riding for some time, though you'd have to acknowledge they're doing not badly in the smoke and mirrors department so far this round.
Kennedy is now looking to a provincial run to replace Maguire, and federal Conservatives are telling O'Connor: "It’s done, get over it." O'Connor may not want to, but it's likely all inside baseball to the voters in this traditionally Conservative riding, the same way Sopuck's nomination was a non-issue at the polls one riding to the north in a by-election three years earlier.
The Greens still have no announced candidate, but are expecting announcements soon, and plan to hold a nomination meeting on Wednesday, October 9.
The NDP nomination meeting is still scheduled for Thursday, October 17, with a deadline for candidates to enter the race of Monday, October 7. To date there are two declared candidates, Cory Szczepanski and John Bouché.
Must read, to get au courant:
- Inky Mark letter to the editor, Brandon Sun – Thu Sep 19 – "Nomination process broken"
- Deveryn Ross column in the Winnipeg Free Press – Thu Sep 19 – "Tory blue riding is seeing red"
- Online Story, Brandon Sun – Fri Sep 20 – "Godon withdraws from Liberal nomination in Brandon-Souris"
- Shaun Cameron's column in the Brandon Sun – Sat Sep 21 – "More questions than answers after nomination process"
- James O'Connor's column in the Brandon Sun – Sat Sep 21 – "Why is this man smiling? The photo was taken before he got kicked in the teeth by his own party — the CPC" (where O'Connor says he will "hold his nose and vote Liberal")
* If only I could take credit for that delicious phrase, but it actually comes from a terrific court scene in the movie "The Big Easy", where it's applied to the city of New Orleans by a lawyer with a colourful sense of metaphor.