How On­tario PCs could lose a winnable rid­ing

Shenani­gans in Ot­tawa West-Ne­pean are a text­book les­son in po­lit­i­cal self-de­struc­tion

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID REEVELY dreevely@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/davidreevely

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.

Jeremy Roberts

Karma Macgre­gor

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