At almost every turn, the Ontario PC Party extols the virtues of competition in all things.
But apparently, not in the search for good candidates to run in the next election.
In the 2011 election campaign, the PCs claimed they were the party where local democracy counted. Head office was so adamant about not interfering with local candidate nomination meetings that they allowed the longest-serving member of their caucus, Norm Sterling, the MPP for Carleton-Mississippi Mills, to be taken down by a challenger. Sterling had been an MPP for 33 years.
But the wishes of local party members to choose a new standard bearer were so unviolable that the party let Sterling go down.
Problem was, the party's head office wasn't the least bit consistent on this. It had no trouble insinuating itself in other nomination races. So, when there was a candidate the party really wanted to win a nomination, somehow local democracy suddenly wasn't so important. Candidates who may have wanted to run took the hint that they shouldn't. Candidates who were favoured were given an unfettered path to the finish line.
Tim Hudak and Rocco Rossi on the hustings in the 2011 election campaign.
Leader Tim Hudak even had a news conference with Rocco Rossi, the former national director of the federal Liberals, to welcome him to the Eglinton-Lawrence nomination. Of course, the nominating meeting hadn't happened yet and Hudak's event was meant to tell any others interested in contesting that nomination that they needn't bother.
Why talk about this now? Because it's happening again, this time in Brant riding, where official PC headquarters is doing what it can to ensure that former PC cabinet minister Phil Gillies has an uncontested path to the nomination.
Phil Gillies and Tim Hudak.
Now don't get me wrong -- Gillies would be a fine candidate. He once was the MPP for Brantford and spent five months as a cabinet minister in Frank Miller's short-lived government in 1985. Mind you, he hasn't lived in Brantford for a long time.
But that's not the issue. There's another candidate who'd like to run for the PC nomination, but the party has declined to let him run, even though he's already sold more than 130 memberships towards his candidacy.
Mark Littell is a former Brantford city councillor and one-time mayoralty candidate. There's nothing apparent about him that would suggest he be disqualified for seeking the nomination. And yet, he received a letter from PC headquarters just the other day telling him his candidacy was being refused. Here's what the letter said:
This afternoon the Provincial Nomination Committee (PNC) of the PC Party of Ontario met to discuss nomination candidate applications. Under Section 8.4 of the Rules Governing Candidate Nominations the PNC has ruled to decline your application.
Section 8.4 says the following: "... all decisions regarding candidate nomination will be made based on the strategic best interest of the Party."
Evidently, "the party" has decided that a nomination fight in Brant isn't in the party's best interests. But how does "the party" square that with the following clause, which is also in the rule book?
… a fundamental aspect of being a member of a political party is having a say in who gets to be your local candidate. We need to respect members by protecting your right to choose candidates in fair, open, and competitive candidate nomination meetings.
I spoke to PC Party communications director Alan Sakach today and got this explanation: "I'm not going to get into details as to why he was declined. I don't comment on that. Suffice to say, the potential nominee didn't meet our standards."
Meanwhile, Littell says he'll appeal the decision and looks forward to contesting the nomination on December 4th.
Obviously, this isn't the most egregious political violation in Ontario history. But it is yet another example of how, on the issue of candidate nominations, the PC Party apparently believes one thing, but does another. One wonders whether this will simply encourage people to be more cynical about participating in political life.
We'll keep an eye on this story in case there are any further developments.
Image credits: Phil Gillies' and Mark Littell's Facebook pages.