Floor-crossing MP Eve Adams's bid to run for the federal Liberals in Toronto is causing a rift between local party supporters and Justin Trudeau's team in Ottawa just as the federal election approaches and the party looks to the GTA to pick up much-needed seats.
Some federal Toronto Liberals, who raised money for Mr. Trudeau and his team and worked to help him win a couple of key by-elections, are dismayed they weren't consulted about the decision to bring Ms. Adams into the Eglinton-Lawrence riding. They question why Mr. Trudeau would bill her defection as such a triumph after the Conservatives told her she couldn't run for them after alleged misconduct in a nomination race last year.
One senior Liberal organizer, who has been active on the federal front and asked that his name not be used, describes the decision to embrace Ms. Adams as "stupidity," especially given that Mr. Trudeau "ran around" saying nominations were open and he would not appoint people.
He says he may sit this election out – and some provincial Liberals feel the same way.
Mike Colle, the long-time Eglinton-Lawrence Liberal MPP, has helped his federal counterparts in past general elections – but says he "won't go near her" if she becomes the candidate.
In fact, he's not talking to her or her campaign manager, Tom Allison, a successful and respected Liberal organizer. Mr. Colle says Mr. Allison lectured him about being loyal to the party. "'You're using that word loyalty in terms of Eve Adams?'" Mr. Colle says he said to Mr. Allison. "I don't want to talk about it."
This angst in the ranks is playing out against the backdrop of vote-rich Ontario – the province is gaining 15 seats under redistribution and will elect 121 of the 338 MPs in the coming election. The Liberals, who are the third party in the Commons, are focusing a lot of their effort in the Greater Toronto Area, which has close to 50 ridings. Strategists believe they have a big opportunity in the GTA, which is evident given the amount of time Mr. Trudeau is spending in the area.
A united front with all Liberals working together could help their election prospects.
But Mr. Colle says parachuting Ms. Adams in from the Tory ranks where she has been the MP for the suburban riding Mississauga-Brampton South since 2011, and directly into a riding where she has no close connection is an "affront" to all the Liberals there.
Mr. Allison, meanwhile, says he would be an "idiot" to try to lecture an elected official. "What I actually asked Mike was would he ever accept Eve's call or return her call, or should she stop trying to speak to him. He smiled and walked away from me," Mr. Allison wrote in an e-mail.
There has been speculation among some local Liberals that Ms. Adams's campaign is being helped by the Trudeau team in Ottawa. But a spokesman for Mr. Trudeau says Ms. Adams chose to run in the Eglinton-Lawrence riding and has to organize herself and the nomination process is open.
However, not every prospective candidate is welcomed by Mr. Trudeau on national television. In addition, her campaign manager, Mr. Allison, is a top organizer in the region. He managed Kathleen Wynne's 2013 Liberal leadership campaign and John Tory's successful bid last year for Toronto mayor.
Helping out, too, is another Toronto Liberal heavyweight, Alexis Levine, a lawyer and supporter of Mr. Trudeau. He was a senior strategist on Toronto Centre MP Chrystia Freeland's campaign – she was hand-picked by the Trudeau team to run – and he is now introducing Ms. Adams to some of the local Liberals in the riding.
Ms. Adams is no stranger to controversy. She is engaged to Dimitri Soudas, one of Mr. Harper's strategists, who served as his spokesman and later, as executive director of the Conservative Party. He left his position amid allegations that he interfered in her nomination for the riding of Oakville North-Burlington.
She and Mr. Soudas, who helped broker her move to the Liberal Party, would not return calls or respond to e-mails.
Despite her savvy campaign manager, it's unclear whether Ms. Adams will win the nomination. She is running against Marco Mendicino, a lawyer, who has lived and worked in the riding for almost a decade. He has been campaigning – knocking on doors and signing up new members – for the past eight months.
Mr. Mendicino, who was a prosecutor on the Toronto 18 terror case, won't comment directly about his opponent. Rather, he says, he is an optimistic person and believes Mr. Trudeau when he said that the nomination process will be "open and fair." He adds that people in the riding are "thrilled to have the choice of supporting a strong local Liberal." Mr. Colle has endorsed him.
Rocco Piccininno, president of the Eglinton-Lawrence federal Liberal riding association, says Ms. Adams's candidacy brings "a lot of attention to the riding and attention is good."
He denies her presence is causing a rift – "Mike's Italian," says Mr. Piccininno about Mr. Colle's comments. "We're upset one day. We're drinking together another."
Stephen Harper's Conservatives, meanwhile, are watching the Adams saga unfold with some amusement. Privately, they are hoping she will win the nomination, believing Joe Oliver, the incumbent MP and Finance Minister, would easily beat her in the federal election.