A Toronto lawyer who was barred by the Liberal party from seeking its nomination in the riding of Trinity-Spadina has lashed back at Liberal brass saying they fabricated the evidence used to discredit her a way that was both “intimidating and harmful.”
Christine Innes, the two-time federal Liberal candidate in the Toronto constituency, wrote members of the riding executive on Sunday to give her side of a story which has exposed infighting within a party trying to break free from an era of internecine warfare.
“We stand for inclusion not exclusion; unity not division. What has happened in recent days could not be more contrary to these values,” wrote Ms. Innes.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged to hold open nomination meetings in all ridings across Canada.
That promise has clearly proved difficult to keep in places where competition is strong and where the party risks losing star candidates like new MP Chrystia Freeland in nomination battles. And Mr. Trudeau’s inability to keep it is causing some friction.
On Monday, Zach Paikin, the son of television host Steve Paikin, who previously announced that he would seek the Liberal nomination in the new riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, said he was bowing out as a result of the party’s treatment of Ms. Innes.
“I cannot, in good conscience, campaign to be a part of a team of candidates if others seeking to join that team are prevented from doing so if their ideas or ambitions run contrary to the party leader’s interest,” the younger Mr. Paikin said in a statement. “Blocking nomination bids is what creates the party-wide toxicity we seek to avoid.”
Meanwhile, Joe Cressy a social justice activist with deep roots in the NDP, announced Monday that he had would seek the nomination for the New Democrats in Trinity-Spadina.
Mr. Cressy, who gave up plans to be a leader of Ms. Chow’s mayoral campaign when he decided to run federally, said of the Liberals: “I think the residents of Trinity-Spadina are looking for a candidate who will stand up and fight for downtown Toronto, not a political party that seems more interested in fighting amongst themselves.”
David MacNaughton, the Liberal Party’s co-chair in Ontario, wrote Ms. Innes last Thursday to say her candidacy would not be accepted in Trinity-Spadina which became vacant last week with the resignation of Olivia Chow. In his e-mail, Mr. MacNaughton said “your campaign team began to use intimidation and bullying on young volunteers” and “derogatory remarks were made to several young, enthusiastic Liberals about one of our leading MPs.”
A party official said in a subsequent interview: “The only reason is that she is not going to be a candidate is because of the way her campaign was acting.”
But Mr. MacNaughton’s letter to Ms. Innes also expressed “disappointment” that she was not prepared to sign a document saying that, if she won this year’s by-election in Trinity-Spadina, she would agree to seek the nomination in the newly drawn riding of Spadina-Fort York in the general election of 2015.
It is for that reason, and not for any alleged intimidation of campaign workers, that her candidacy was rejected, Ms. Innes said in her letter to the riding executive.
“The unconscionable nature of the Liberal leadership’s action was both intimidating and harmful, not just to me and volunteers, but also my family.” she wrote. “The hardest part of Thursday’s news cycle was having to explain it to my children.”
The allegations of bullying are “are completely without foundation,” she wrote. Ms. Innes said she was completely “shocked” by them, that she was given no details about them, and that she was not allowed an opportunity to respond.
She e-mailed Mr. MacNaughton saying the “allegation that I have somehow made derogatory comments about any MP is ... entirely abhorrent to me and not in keeping with my long-standing reputation as a team player.”
Despite her denial, “Mr. MacNaughton and the party leadership nonetheless decided to immediately leak their story and repeat these malicious, defamatory and false allegations to the national media,” she wrote in her letter to the riding executive.
And, over the course of the news cycle, she wrote, the allegations of bullying “morphed from ‘my team’ to ‘my husband,’ to making an example of me, to interjecting the irrelevant issue of my husband’s past political involvement despite his strong and progressive record as an elected member in both the Chretien and Martin governments.”
Ms. Innes’s husband, Tony Ianno, was the Liberal MP in Trinity-Spadina from 1993 to 2006, when he was defeated by Ms. Chow who ran for the New Democrats. Ms. Innes succeeded him as the candidate in 2008 and again in 2011 but lost both times.
The riding will be divided for the 2015 vote with the lower half becoming Spadina-Fort-York and the upper half becoming University-Rosedale, which would also incorporate part of the existing riding of Toronto Centre which was won in a by-election last year by Ms. Freeland.
The party would prefer to allow Ms. Freeland to run in University-Rosedale where Liberal support is presumed to be stronger than Spadina-Fort York which is believed to be more heavily NDP.
Mr. MacNaughton said in an e-mail on Monday that there were conversations with Ms. Innes and others about the riding boundary changes.
“We wanted to avoid a situation where two sitting MPs would be battling for the same riding and hoped to get agreement on this before the by-election,” he explained. “We wanted to make sure that everyone was focused on winning in Trinity-Spadina and not jockeying for a future nomination battle."
While those discussions were taking place, "allegations were made by several volunteers that members of Christine's team were using intimidation in attempting to line up support for her in a future nomination fight with a sitting MP," said Mr. MacNaughton. "We looked into the matter and found enough credible evidence to take the action we did. At no time in my e-mails nor in discussions with the media did I mention the name of the individual involved in the intimidation. Several members of the media have drawn conclusions in that regard."
Ms. Innes wrote in her letter that she believes she would have had the support to win the nomination in either of the two ridings that will be formed of Trinity-Spadina in the 2015 election. But “I truly believed that it was a discussion best had after the by-election,” she wrote.
In a letter to Mr. MacNaughton dated March 10, she said she believed that telling voters the riding in which she would seek the 2015 nomination would hurt her chances in the by-election. “The Liberal party would be asking 50 per cent of the voters in Trinity-Spadina to vote for a candidate who wouldn’t be around in 2015, who would be ‘just visiting.’”
The Conservatives inflicted serious damage on former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, a scholar who had spent much of his life outside of Canada, of “just visiting” this country in his bid for the job of prime minister.