In bid to prevent more controversies like the one that erupted over a Vancouver-Kingsway candidate who celebrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Green Party director of organizing is advising recruiters to Google all nominees.
But if you Google the director's name, Sharon Labchuk, you'll turn up a photo of her naked, except for a gas mask and a curtain of dark hair, sitting in a PEI potato field. The well-known environmental activist was protesting against the use of agricultural pesticides and the photo appears in the 2003 book Womankind: Faces of Change Around the World.
In some political parties, that might preclude Ms. Labchuk from volunteering, let alone being Prince Edward Island's party leader and Elizabeth May's campaign manager, but the Green Party has different standards for what constitutes controversy.
"I thought it was kind of amusing that I was doing the screening for a national political party when that photo is out there," Ms. Labchuk said, laughing. "But it gives me a different perspective: I look carefully at something that is called controversial to see if it is in opposition to party values - if it was pornographic, that might be different. But we look for people who are engaged in their community and are working for positive change."
She's delighted whenever that evocative photo surfaces because it boosts awareness of the use of agricultural pesticides in PEI. It first appeared in a 1998 calendar and has been reprinted in newspapers and books and it even appeared in a show at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.
But she is also urging the eight organizers who appoint about half the party's candidates to be more careful about ensuring nominees' views mesh with Green values. Although the party was established in 1983, it lacks a full network of local riding associations to find and groom candidates, and organizers have to recruit like-minded nominees to fill the roster. In anticipation of an election, the Greens already have 182 of the 307 candidates they plan to run.
She said that her party's candidate screening will continue to emphasize interviews with organizers, such as herself, who have been Green candidates. She believes their recruiting process, which includes getting references from local activists, is more rigorous because of those personal interviews.
"You get a feeling by meeting [prospective candidates] and talking to them about issues," Ms. Labchuk said. "A lot of things are intuitive. When we talk to people, all of these things come into play."
Ms. Labchuk, who lives in a solar-powered house about 30 kilometres outside of Charlottetown, has no idea how rejected B.C. candidate Kevin Potvin's opinion piece, which Ms. May called "antithetical to Green Party values," could have been overlooked.
Andrew Frank, who handles communications for B.C.'s Green Party, said Mr. Potvin, a publisher who had run for city council, met all their criteria.
In addition, B.C. organizer Ben West (who proposed his candidacy) and provincial deputy leader Adriane Carr know Mr. Potvin personally.
Mr. Frank pointed out that Googling Mr. Potvin wouldn't have turned up anything, since they couldn't have known what to look for.
"Ben [West] had read his newspaper - he just hadn't read that article from five years ago," he said, noting that they found Mr. Potvin's other writing intelligent and they knew he was well liked in his East Vancouver neighbourhood, where he is a soccer dad and runs a magazine shop.
Mr. Frank, who has worked for the Green Party for about a month, believes the news media got hold of Mr. Potvin's article about 9/11 because someone from the NDP tipped them off to discredit the Greens. He said his party is hoping to introduce an era of "more positive politics."
But a former Green Party candidate for New Brunswick's Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe riding said her experience suggests Green organizers don't make much effort to vet their candidates beyond the nomination form's standard questions, such as whether applicants have a criminal record or have ever filed for bankruptcy.
"[Ms. Labchuk] approached my mother, Louisa Barton-Duguay [a publisher and environmental activist] and when she was too busy I said, 'that sounds like fun,' " recalled Gabrielle Taylor, 32, who writes about high-tech gadgets for online sites.
Her candidacy lasted about four weeks over December, 2005, and January, 2006, until she resigned in frustration over the disorganization. She was replaced by Ms. Labchuk's daughter, Camille, 23, who is now Ms. May's press secretary.
Today, Ms. Taylor laughs at the idea of voting Green, dismissing the party as a collection of well-meaning but undisciplined individuals who are not serious about politics.
"You can tolerate incompetence if the mission is good, but if you don't feel like there is even a good mission, then . . .," Ms. Taylor said, explaining why she quit.
"They seem to think good intentions are enough. But you can't treat politics like volunteering and let your heart run the show. It makes good economic sense to have a cleaner environment, but I don't see them proposing economic solutions - they keep appealing to the emotional level, and that isn't going to fly."