How Ontario PCs could lose a winnable riding
Shenanigans in Ottawa West-Nepean are a textbook lesson in political self-destruction
Three days after the Ontario Progressive Conservatives booted Ottawa West-Nepean candidate Karma Macgregor out of her nomination, the would-be MPP kept turtling Monday.
Macgregor was one of two casualties in a purge by the Tories’ central nominations committee, which re-examined controversies over some candidates chosen when Patrick Brown was the party leader.
Since then, she’s tweeted nothing, posted nothing to her campaign Facebook page. She didn’t return calls to her campaign number Monday, or messages sent online. She’s still listed as the candidate on the party website, but it’s a ghost campaign, missing its candidate.
As an indication of how Brown ran the Progressive Conservatives, from recruiting candidates to honouring the grassroots to dealing with controversy, it’s depressing.
In Ottawa West-Nepean, Brown personally confirmed Macgregor’s nomination despite allegations from the Tories’ own local riding-association president that the ballot boxes had been stuffed and the membership rolls contained dozens and dozens of suspicious entries — people with Toronto phone numbers, living in apartment buildings without apartment numbers, and so on. Bygones, Brown shrugged.
He appointed her the party’s candidate, exercising a power he had to bypass ordinary nominations before his party deposed him in January amid allegations of sexual assault and creepiness. The riding-association board quit and retired senator Marjory LeBreton said publicly she’d never seen anything so undemocratic. It didn’t help the look of things that Macgregor’s daughter Tamara was one of Brown’s deputy chiefs of staff, herself ejected from the leader’s office after Brown resigned.
We’re redoing the vote, the nominations committee co-chair (and former Progressive Conservative party president) Ken Zeise announced at the end of last week, this one in Ottawa and one in Scarborough Centre.
The party hasn’t set a date yet but Macgregor’s vanishing seems to leave the field to Jeremy Roberts, the opponent she “defeated” at that ugly nomination meeting last May.
The Tories had wanted to give their candidate a head start. Ottawa West-Nepean is a prime Tory target, the kind of inner-suburb swing riding the Progressive Conservatives have to win if they’re going to form a government. When Mike Harris was leading the party, Tory Garry Guzzo won it; since the Tories have been on the outs, it’s been held by Liberals Jim Watson and Bob Chiarelli. The same thing happens in federal elections, and the New Democrat candidate usually shows strongly enough to deny the winner a majority (Watson squeaked one out in 2007).
Chiarelli’s been the Liberals’ energy minister a couple of times, which means he’s a lightning rod for anger over electricity prices. Plus he was implicated in the government’s cash-foraccess scandal, serving as a featured guest at dinners where energy companies and lobbyists paid the Liberal party big money to attend. Defeating Kathleen Wynne in her own riding on their way to power might be the only thing that would make Tories cheer louder than forcing Chiarelli into retirement.
But he’s an experienced politician and the Tories can’t throw just anybody at him and expect to win. Their best chance there — like anywhere — would come with a rooted local candidate with a resumé, someone whose name meant something in west Ottawa. Chiarelli himself lives outside the riding in southern Nepean; the Tories could pound him with that.
Instead lately they’ve run Beth Graham (a former political aide who presented poorly) and Randall Denley (my sometime newsroom colleague, who also didn’t live in the riding and was new to retail politics). Denley gave Chiarelli a bit of a scare in 2011 but then lost convincingly in a rematch in 2014.
Then they had Macgregor, a longtime party apparatchik who moved to Ottawa eight years ago to work for the Tories in the Senate, whose “win” shattered the local party organization.
Roberts is also a Conservative apparatchik, a staffer to federal ministers in the Harper era who held on with a British Columbia MP when the federal Tories lost the 2015 election. After he “lost” the Ottawa West-Nepean nomination he announced he’d run federally in Kanata-Carleton, the next riding west. Now he’s back provincially in Ottawa WestNepean. Politics has been his career. He is, at least, an Ottawa guy, and while Macgregor is hiding, he’s out selling memberships.
Wave elections can bring the most unlikely people into office. But this is how a party might treat a safe seat, where backroom intrigue is how you get to the legislature. In a constituency where your party needs every advantage, it’s pure self-destruction.