Toronto Star

Trudeau didn’t have to put party through this defeat

- Tim Harper

In this summer of melting Liberal fortunes, this Sunday afternoon in a steamy high school auditorium was supposed to be all about Eve, Dimitri and Justin.

Instead it turned out to be all about prominent Toronto lawyer Marco Mendicino and an Eglinton-Lawrence Liberal repudiatio­n of interloper Eve Adams, her fiancé and one-time Conservati­ve heavyweigh­t Dimitri Soudas, and Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader who brought the duo and their steamer-size luggage aboard the listing Liberal ship.

The winner was supposed to be the drama queen with the temper, the woman who had run afoul of Conservati­ve brass for the bare-knuckles style — known genericall­y as bullying — that she and Soudas employed in a previous Conservati­ve nomination battle so tainted that she left before both contestant­s were tossed from the ring.

Soudas, the one-time Conservati­ve power broker and loyal spokespers­on for Harper had lost his job. Adams had abandoned a nomination bid and lost the support of her party. And then Trudeau found the pair while rooting around in Harper’s blue bin.

Now the one-time, would-be power couple have been cast aside by two parties and the Liberal leader has taken another political hit at the worst possible time.

Adams lost her first political race of any kind, Soudas was left to shrug when asked what went wrong and Trudeau’s judgment can be questioned anew.

We snickered when he trotted out Adams last February as some major catch for the Liberals. Check that. We guffawed.

But Adams was supposed to be the woman to take on Finance Minister Joe Oliver in the riding in October, ready to brawl with the man whose praises she once sang loudly and proudly.

This was to be a victory for defectors everywhere, any man or woman whose principles run so deeply they are prepared to run across the street to work for the competitio­n they once vilified.

It was supposed to be a victory for the long reach of a central party apparatus spreading its tentacles deep into the grassroots of a riding.

Instead the grassroots recoiled and the man who had spent a year campaignin­g for this nomination actually won it.

To be fair to Adams, she was an interloper who ignored detractors — including one who urged her to resign before she strode to the mike Sunday — and worked hard.

Those bare knuckles were re- placed, she told us, by what she called cracked and bleeding knuckles from knocking on doors in the riding during cold winter nights.

For Trudeau, there was no clear win-win, but there was a lose-lose.

He found that spot. Most Liberals believed Mendicino had a better shot at besting a sitting finance minister, but at least the party, had it chosen Adams, would have loyally followed the leader’s wishes and given the riding the candidate handpicked from headquarte­rs.

Mike Colle, the Liberal MPP who had crowed that Adams would win this nomination over his “dead body” was very much alive Sunday, declaring Trudeau has to start listening to the “ordinary Joes and ordinary Janes” of the Liberal party instead of declaring candidates in a so-called open nomination process.

Mendicino pointedly told the audience he was no career politician but his life was in Eglinton-Lawrence.

A pledge by Adams to move into the riding was met with silence by the audience.

Mendicino had won the endorsemen­t of the party’s former interim leader, Bob Rae, York West Liberal MP Judy Sgro, former MP Maria Minna and, most loudly, Colle.

They appeared resigned to defeat. Mendicino’s supporters had charged the riding associatio­n had signed up people who had no idea what they were signing. They charged this nomination vote had been delayed until Adams had enough support for victory. They blamed Liberal headquarte­rs for pulling strings behind the scenes.

Adams’ backers were called “instant Liberals” by Colle who predicted a split party in the riding if she won.

But she’s also a lightning rod for controvers­y, whether being accused of shopping in New York on Remembranc­e Day while parliament­ary secretary to the minister of veterans affairs, blocking traffic at an Ottawa gas station in a fit of pique over the quality of a car wash, or citing a concussion as reason for removing her name from an earlier Conservati­ve race.

Now she’s going back to being a mom, for the time being, she said.

Before the vote, she told me she had never lost a political race. Afterward, she paused when asked if she chose the wrong riding, praised Trudeau when asked about his judgment. Trudeau didn’t have to put his party through this. He scooped up the drama queen and we got a lot of drama. But in the end, a grassroots victory only raises more questions about the upper echelon of this party. Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1

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