An article from ipolitics by Martin Patriquin
By all accounts (including my own), Yolande James will make an excellent candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada.
The 39-year-old is smart, bilingual and engaging. She has both political experience (she served as a cabinet minister in Jean Charest’s provincial Liberal government for six years) and “good talk,” as they say in television circles. In the short period I sat next to her on CBC’s Power & Politics, I saw and heard a Liberal pundit whose thoughtful responses rarely, if ever, devolved into abject partisan hackery — a rarity in this business.
The problem is that, in blatantly torquing the race in her favour, the Liberal party itself has already cheapened the legitimacy of her candidacy.
James is seeking to represent the Liberals in the Montreal riding of Saint-Laurent. The party courted her for weeks, and James made all the proper noises about her disinterest before jumping in.
This being the Liberal party, Saint-Laurent is an ‘open nomination’ — the endlessly hyped process through which candidates are chosen in the Age of Trudeau. Gone are the patronage-soaked days of yore, when candidates were rewarded for the breadth of their connections and/or the strength of their fundraising chops. Enacted in 2013, open nominations were to serve as “new, positive rules of engagement that move us away from the nasty, excluding and divisive battles of our past,” as the party brass put it in March 2014.
Though she is clearly the party’s favoured candidate, James must ostensibly suffer through the open nominations process like any other schmo. Yay, democracy … except the party has done James a remarkable service by essentially snuffing out the candidacy of Alan De Sousa, her only real opponent for the job.
A longtime municipal politician, De Sousa’s roots and reach in the area are such that James would have stood a very good chance of losing against him. On Feb. 28, the party rejected his candidacy. De Sousa has appealed; if past is prologue, the Expos have a better chance of winning next year’s pennant than he has of being the next Liberal candidate for Saint-Laurent.
The Liberal party continues this electoral shell game precisely because it hasn’t suffered a bit politically because of it. Just the opposite, in fact.
The party hasn’t given reasons for De Sousa’s rejection; the process might be open, but the machinations determining whether and how a candidate is green-lit remain shrouded in Vatican-like secrecy. Yet the Saint-Laurent fiasco follows a pattern in which the Liberal party has consistently undermined its own lofty nominations policy.
During the 2015 election campaign, at least four ridings were beset by accusations of favouritism: Trinity-Spadina, Eglington-Lawrence, Ahuntsic-Cartierville and Ville Marie-Le Sud-Ouest-Île-des-Soeurs. More recent rumblings emerged from Don Valley North and Markham-Thornhill, where would-be Liberal candidate Juanita Nathan dropped out of the race, calling it “neither open nor fair.” (Juanita was up against Mary Ng, a former senior Trudeau staff member.)
The inevitable kvetching from the also-rans? Perhaps. Yet take a look at these ridings. Every one is a safe Liberal seat; the Liberal candidate in each is virtually assured a spot in caucus, if not something better. In the bad old Liberal days, these were the types of ridings where you would see the party park its biggest names, if only to give them an appropriate springboard into power. It is no different in the Age of Trudeau — except the whole process has been couched in feel-good rhetoric and the appearance of a level playing field.
The Liberal party continues this electoral shell game precisely because it hasn’t suffered a bit politically because of it. Just the opposite, in fact. On paper, the open nominations policy allows the party to be on the side of angels. In practice, it can champion the dirty status quo by shoehorning star candidates into safe ridings. It’s less ‘Real Change’ than plus ça change.
Not coincidentally, Liberals won those four ridings where the allegations of favouritism were the loudest by an average of 17 percentage points. Three of those Liberals are now parliamentary secretaries. One of them, Ahuntsic-Cartierville’s own Mélanie Joly, is a cabinet minister.
Which brings us back to Saint-Laurent. Multicultural and multilingual, teeming with churches, mosques and synagogues, it might as well be a pamphlet for cozy Liberal ideals. Stéphane Dion won his seat there by 42 percentage points in 2015 before reluctantly shuffling off to be Canada’s ambassador in Germany earlier this year.
His replacement is in for similar gilded treatment — that is to say, a quick and easy win, followed by a tenure track straight into Trudeau’s cabinet.
Yolande James will surely excel in the role. Shame about how she’s getting there.