Supporters of Christine Innes are saying that the two-time federal Liberal candidate was barred from competing in the coming Trinity-Spadina by-election because she refused to clear the way for incumbent MP Chrystia Freeland in the 2015 election, when federal riding boundaries are redrawn.
Two sources close to Ms. Innes denied that her campaign was guilty of “intimidation and bullying” – the reason stated in Thursday’s announcement that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will not allow her to run for his party.
In a statement, Ms. Innes said she was told previously that she would only be permitted to run in Trinity-Spadina if she “agreed in writing prior to the by-election to run in a pre-assigned riding that would be determined by the Leader of the Party’s unelected backroom advisors.”
The public battle has laid bare the kind of divisive infighting Mr. Trudeau has made clear he wants to avoid. He declared “the era of hyphenated Liberals” over after winning the Liberal leadership race, stating he would not tolerate infighting among so-called Chrétien or Martin Liberals.
Ms. Innes has twice run unsuccessfully in the riding. Her husband, Tony Ianno, was Liberal MP for the downtown riding from 1993 to 2006, when he was defeated by the NDP’s Olivia Chow. Ms. Chow’s departure from the NDP benches in the House of Commons to vie for the Toronto mayoralty creates an opportunity for the Liberals to regain turf they lost to her.
While the Innes statement did not elaborate on where the party wanted her to run in the next general election, the sources said it was Spadina-Fort York – a new riding that will include the southern chunk of what is currently Trinity-Spadina.
That would allow Ms. Freeland, a high-profile former journalist who won the riding of Toronto Centre in a by-election last year, to run in University-Rosedale – another new riding that will include parts of both her current constituency and Trinity-Spadina. Meanwhile, the redrawn riding of Toronto Centre would be reserved for Bill Morneau, the former C.D. Howe Institute chair being recruited by Mr. Trudeau as another star candidate.
Ms. Innes, however, did not want to rule out running in University-Rosedale, the part of Trinity-Spadina in which she lives. That led to a battle between her supporters and those of Ms. Freeland for control of the new University-Rosedale riding association that the Liberals are currently in the midst of establishing.
Supporters of Ms. Innes say they were winning that fight, which prompted the party’s demand that she commit to stepping aside, and punishment when she refused to do so.
A party official acknowledged the dispute about who would run where, but reiterated that “the only reason that she is not going to be a candidate is because of the way her campaign was acting.”
Ms. Innes was told previously, the official said, about complaints from Liberals in the riding of bullying by her campaign, but warnings went unheeded.
The issue of nominations is a touchy one for Mr. Trudeau, since the pledge to hold open nomination meetings in all ridings across Canada was a signature moment in his leadership campaign for the Liberal Party.
The move was designed to showcase his desire for a new grassroots approach to politics. Mr. Trudeau also promised that Liberal MPs would be able to vote more freely in the House of Commons, stating that he wanted to decentralize power away from the leader’s office.
Still, Liberals are quietly acknowledging that there is no way to prevent some form of intervention by Mr. Trudeau and his top advisers in the nomination process. For example, there is a clear sense in the party that candidates like Ms. Freeland had a leg up when she entered the Toronto-Centre nomination battle, given her credentials and ties to Mr. Trudeau’s team.
At the Liberal Party’s convention in February, Mr. Trudeau attended specific speeches and events, giving clear hints that he wanted some speakers to eventually join him in Ottawa.
“Justin has been very clear he does not want to appoint,” says Navdeep Bains, a former Ontario MP who is co-chair of the Ontario campaign. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have preferences. He is looking for skill sets … he is attracting good candidates.”