A star Liberal candidate, acclaimed in an east-end Ottawa riding over the weekend, acknowledged Sunday that "it will take some time" for the party to overcome a nomination battle that was so contentious police were called to the meeting.
Andrew Leslie, a retired Canadian Forces Lieutenant-General who will run for the Liberals in the Orléans riding in next year's federal election, said he wanted to "extend the hand of friendship" to those dissatisfied with the outcome of the nomination process "and to make the Liberal family in the riding stronger. The overriding objective is to ensure that [Stephen Harper] does not get another tenure as our Prime Minister," the 56-year-old Mr. Leslie said.
But the messy exercise and outcome may well hinder his election prospects, Liberal observers warned. One lifelong Liberal, Judith Holtzhauer, angrily tore up her membership card and threw it at Mr. Leslie's feet Saturday and vowed to do "everything I can" to ensure the Liberals lose the riding next time.
David Bertschi, a would-be rival candidate who was personally disallowed at the last minute by party Leader Justin Trudeau from challenging Mr. Leslie – despite placing a strong second in the 2011 election for the Liberals – said he hadn't ruled out running as an Independent. If he does, that could drain away enough votes from Mr. Leslie to ensure incumbent Conservative Royal Galipeau wins his fourth straight election, said one long-time Liberal strategist.
About 20 of Mr. Bertschi's supporters attended the packed nomination meeting at a seniors' community centre Saturday and angrily voiced their opposition to the process, with police forced to break up one scuffle amid cries of "Shame, shame, shame," according to a Postmedia report from the meeting.
The situation in Orléans is the latest in a series of troubled Liberal nomination battles across Canada that have undermined Mr. Trudeau's early claims that he favours an open process for picking candidates.
In Vancouver South, businessman Barjinder Singh Dhahan dropped out of the nomination race last month amid reports Mr. Trudeau and his advisers favoured retired Lieuteant-Colonel Harjit Singh Sajjan. Last May, Ryan Davey dropped out of the race to represent the Liberals in a by-election in the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina, saying the nomination had become a de facto appointment by Mr. Trudeau of star candidate Adam Vaughan.
Another Liberal, Christine Innes, blocked from running in the by-election over alleged bullying tactics by her team, filed a defamation lawsuit against party officials.
Mr. Leslie was one of three prominent candidates to enter the race to run against Mr. Galipeau. But in May, former Liberal MP and junior minister Gar Knutson dropped out after Mr. Trudeau insisted only pro-choice candidates could run for the party in the next election. Then, last month, Mr. Bertschi, a local lawyer who won 38 per cent of the riding's vote in the 2011 election, had his "green light" status to run for the nomination revoked. Party officials said the reason was that he hadn't repaid all of his debts when he ran for the Liberal leadership against Mr. Trudeau or disclosed information about a short-lived defamation lawsuit he filed and then abandoned months before entering the Orléans nomination race.
After Mr. Bertschi – who had paid off most of his debts and said he was on track to return the balance in time for the next election – appealed the decision, Mr. Trudeau sent him a letter saying he was invoking his authority under the Liberal Party's constitution to render Bertschi ineligible to be a candidate for the Liberals in the next election.
"What happened in Orleans is about power, and it's not about democracy," Mr. Bertschi said in an interview. "I'm very troubled by the lack of democratic principles applied" in the riding. "My agent has always said to the Leader's office, 'Look, if you're going to appoint Andrew Leslie, just appoint him.' … But to revoke on grounds that are not accurate or when I'm complying with my obligations is just not the right thing to do."
A spokesman for the Liberal party referred to a letter read out by Michael McLellan, chair of the nomination meeting, in which party officials said "we took the difficult decision to remove the qualified contestant status of David Bertschi" due to "ongoing concerns." Mr. Bertschi said he is still considering his options, and challenging his exclusion from the race in court "is one of them."