There’s been a bit of an interesting development in the provincial by-election taking place in Scarborough-Guildwood. It has nothing to do with the on-going subways vs. LRT debate, and everything to do with how former Toronto City Councillor Adam Giambrone, was able to claim the Ontario NDP’s nomination in the Scarborough-Guildwood riding. Full coverage of the controversy is being reported in the July 12 2013 online edition of the Torontoist (see: “NDP riding association questions eligibility of voters in Scarborough-Guildwood”, by Desmond Cole).
Say what you want about the Adam Giambrone – who ended up on top of the recent ONDP’s Scarborough-Guildwood nomination contest, even though he himself had recruited his opponent and former NDP riding candidate, Kaur Chhabra. A quick Google search of “Adam Giambrone” will acquaint readers with the scandal he created during a failed bid to become Toronto’s Mayor.
In this case, though, Giambrone is likely innocent of accusations which are being made about his bid to become candidate, although the public might never know the truth. In short, the local Scarborough-Guildwood ONDP riding association identified about a dozen voters at the Nomination Contest for which it did not have a record of, and whose names did not appear on the lists that the riding association had provided to nomination contestants prior to the contest.
When unknown individuals show up to cast ballots at a nomination contest, there’s usually a comprehensive verification process which the riding association undertakes at the door to confirm the legitimacy of voters before any ballots are cast. Riding associations may only have several dozen voters participating in a nomination contest (as was the case with Scarborough-Guildwood, where the Torontoist reports that there were only 32 voters, including the 12 not on the riding association’s list), so it’s important to make sure that everyone who shows up is eligible to vote. In the case of the Ontario NDP, apparently eligibility criteria include having a primary residence within the riding, and having been deemed to be a member of the association for more than 30 days. Both of these restrictions are not out of the ordinary with all political parties. They are put in place to help ensure that nomination contests aren’t “taken over” by outsiders who show up at the door to support an unknown candidate.
Having been unable to verify the 12 unknown voters, the Scarborough-Guildwood ONDP association appeared nevertheless to allow them all to participate in voting. The riding association claims that it did so in consultation with Darlene Lawson, the ONDP’s provincial secretary, who was present at the meeting. Darlene Lawson, in her reply back to the association, claims otherwise.
Whether or not the Provincial Secretary verified the validity of all 12 of the unknown voters who showed up to cast ballots, what seems remarkable to me is that the Scarborough-Guildwood riding association, who has the responsibility for running the nomination contest, would have let them vote without something in writing which confirmed their eligibility requirements. Normally, that “something in writing” would have been an updated copy of the membership list – something which the riding association should have sought from the Ontario NDP headquarters. Perhaps they did seek it and were just never provided with it. But given the presence of the Provincial Secretary at the nomination meeting, one would think that she would have had the most up-to-date list on her person, or at least stored on her laptop or device.
Anyway, Lawson’s response is more than a little telling. Lawson indicated to the riding association that membership lists are updated from time, for several reasons. First, she indicates that it’s “standard practice to update the membership database prior to a nomination meeting”, to identify renewing members, and members who have changed their address. She also indicates that the database may be updated to identify “federal members”. And that’s probably what this tempest in a teapot is all about.
You see, the NDP is unique amongst federal political parties, in that when you join it at the federal level, you also automatically join it at the provincial level (and vice versa). So you can never be a member of the Ontario NDP in good standing without also being a member of the federal NDP (except in Quebec, where there is no provincial party). While many NDP members realize that they belong to both political parties, there are also many who don’t realize this is the case.
It’s my understanding that the database referred to by Lawson is separate from the federal NDP membership database, but clearly they share information about members (they have to – because when you join one Party, you automatically join the other). Given this reality, and given the very tight timeframe in which the Scarborough-Guildwood nomination contest was held (just 3 days), it would not be unusual to discover that additional members were eligible to vote because they had joined the federal party. And as part of the updating process, the names of these members were communicated to the provincial party, and likely they were contacted by the Party and asked to come out to the nomination contest.
So, sure, I can understand why the Scarborough-Guildwood riding association was scratching its collective head about these 12 unknown voters, but there is likely a pretty simple and straightforward explanation here. And as much as I would enjoy nothing more than to suggest that the NDP didn’t follow its own processes so that their golden boy Giambrone could run in the by-election, I have to say that doesn’t appear to be the case. Lawson’s unwillingness to air her Party’s dirty laundry in the media also makes sense – but if you read between the lines, it’s pretty easy to see that there doesn’t appear to be a story here at all.
At least not about the by-election.
But what about the ethics of the NDP, which requires that its members be members of both federal and provincial parties? For a political party which claims to champion the little guy, the dictatorial qualities of the NDP seems to be out of place. Why, for example, should voters in PEI who might support the NDP federally be forced to support a political party which has no chance of achieving electoral success, when there may very well be a decent local Progressive Conservative or Liberal running in an election? Essentially, this policy of Canada’s New Democratic Parties takes away the ability of voters to assess their own local circumstances, and instead requires that they be subservient to party politics. Really, it’s about choice and freedom vs. partisan game playing.
In short, this practice is odious and anti-democratic. But its all within the NDP’s rules, and it probably led to disgraced former Toronto City Councillor Adam Giambrone walking away with his party’s nomination in Scarborough-Guildwood.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
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