Lib­er­als play rough on by-elec­tion

Toronto Star - - Opinion - Ian Urquhart At Queen’s Park

In the ab­stract, the gov­ern­ing Lib­er­als at Queen’s Park like to talk up their plans to “re­new democ­racy” in On­tario. On the ground, how­ever, it is a dif­fer­ent story. The McGuinty gov­ern­ment is prov­ing to be ev­ery bit as ruth­less and ef­fi­cient as the Da­ley regime in Chicago at elim­i­nat­ing in­ter­nal dis­sent and fix­ing nom­i­na­tions.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the up­com­ing by- elec­tion in the rid­ing of Scar­bor­ough- Rouge River to re­place Alvin Curl­ing, who has been named Canada’s am­bas­sador to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic.

Scar­bor­ough- Rouge River is a highly di­verse rid­ing — more than three- quar­ters of its res­i­dents are vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties — and is con­sid­ered a safe Lib­eral seat. Curl­ing won it in 2003 with 64 per cent of the vote, the fifth best re­sult for the Lib­er­als in the whole prov­ince. Not sur­pris­ingly, then, there was a lineup of peo­ple in­ter­ested in seek­ing the Lib­eral nom­i­na­tion for the by- elec­tion when Curl­ing an­nounced his de­par­ture in Au­gust.

Paul Kossta, pres­i­dent of the Lib­eral rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tion, says he in­ter­viewed “ a dozen or more” prospec­tive can­di­dates. But when the Lib­er­als hold their nom­i­na­tion meet­ing in the rid­ing tonight, only one name will be put for­ward: Bas Balkissoon, the Toronto city coun­cil­lor who sounded the alarm on the MFP scan­dal. To hand Balkissoon the nom­i­na­tion, the Lib­er­als used a clause in their party con­sti­tu­tion that al­lows them to de­clare all other po­ten­tial can­di­da­cies in­valid. The de­ci­sion to in­voke what should here­after be known as the “ Balkissoon clause” was made by the rid­ing’s four- mem­ber nom­i­na­tion search com­mit­tee and en­dorsed by the Lib­eral party hi­er­ar­chy.

Kossta says the search com­mit­tee de­cided that a con­tested nom­i­na­tion was “ un­nec­es­sary” be­cause the sup­port for Balkissoon was so over­whelm­ing.

“ I don’t be­lieve any­one could have beaten Mr. Balkissoon,” says Kossta.

That is de­bat­able. Among the prospec­tive nom­i­na­tion can­di­dates was Ray­mond Cho, Balkissoon’s fel­low city coun­cil­lor and a man with a large fol­low­ing in the rid­ing. He thinks he could have won a con­tested nom­i­na­tion.

“ The whole thing was very un­demo­cratic,” says Cho. Why did the Lib­er­als opt for Balkissoon over Cho? Cho says he was “ un­of­fi­cially” told the party was up­set with him for run­ning as an in­de­pen­dent against a sit­ting Lib­eral MP ( Derek Lee) in the 2004 fed­eral elec­tion. Now Cho may choose to run as an in­de­pen­dent in the by- elec­tion.

An­other an­gry would- be can­di­date for the by­elec­tion nom­i­na­tion is Viresh Mathur, a lo­cal busi­ness­man. He ac­cuses the Lib­er­als of “ hi­jack­ing democ­racy” in the rid­ing.

“ Mr. Balkissoon is a very ca­pa­ble and tal­ented man who could be a great MPP, but through a cor­rupt process by the Lib­eral Party of On­tario he has not earned the right to rep­re­sent the peo­ple of Scar­bor­ough- Rouge River,” says Mathur.

Balkissoon him­self was testy when asked about be­ing handed the nom­i­na­tion with­out a fight.

“ I fol­lowed the rules,” he said. My fol­low- up ques­tions were dis­missed as “ very rude.”

If Scar­bor­ough- Rouge River were just a one- off ex­am­ple of Lib­eral heavy- hand­ed­ness, it could be dis­missed as an anom­aly. But sim­i­lar tac­tics were used to elim­i­nate com­pe­ti­tion for the nom­i­na­tion in a pre­vi­ous by­elec­tion ( Hamil­ton East), and there is talk of us­ing the Balkissoon clause to fore­stall any po­ten­tial chal­lenges to in­cum­bents in the run- up to the 2007 gen­eral elec­tion.

Lib­eral party pres­i­dent Deb Matthews says the process fol­lowed in Scar­bor­ough- Rouge River is ac­tu­ally “ highly demo­cratic” be­cause the Balkissoon clause was voted into the party con­sti­tu­tion by the mem­ber­ship. My guess is that the pub­lic will see it dif­fer­ently. A foot­note: The Scar­bor­ough-Rouge River Con­ser­va­tives will have a con­tested nom­i­na­tion meet­ing on Thurs­day night, with John Dol­stra, a Durham school trustee, run­ning against Cyn­thia Lai, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Toronto Real Es­tate Board. The date of the NDP nom­i­na­tion meet­ing is still to be an­nounced. Pre­mier Dal­ton McGuinty is ex­pected to call the by- elec­tion shortly. Ian Urquhart’s pro­vin­cial af­fairs col­umn ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Satur­day. iurquha@thes­tar.ca.

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