Montreal-area MP Eva Nassif says she was denied the Liberal nomination in her riding for the Oct. 21 federal election in part because she did not post social-media tributes earlier this year lauding Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as a feminist.
Ms. Nassif also told The Globe and Mail she has been the subject of “continuous bullying, harassment and intimidation” by three male MPs since shortly after the 2015 election.
She said Mr. Trudeau did not stop the party from blocking her bid to seek a second term.
The Liberals said the party condemns bullying and that it has procedures to deal with any allegation.
In March, amid a furor over the resignations from the cabinet of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott because of the way charges against engineering company SNC-Lavalin were handled, all Liberal MPs, particularly women, were encouraged to defend Mr. Trudeau on Twitter and Facebook. Some used similar language to express confidence in him as a leader who “always listened to the voices of women.”
“I was punished for failing to hail Justin Trudeau as a great feminist in the wake of SNC-Lavalin when I didn’t post anything," Ms. Nassif said. "And I was happy not to post anything because I am authentic.”
She added that the way Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott were treated by Mr. Trudeau and others led to her disenchantment.
“I was called by [a cabinet minister] to ask why I wasn’t going to support the Prime Minister. And I said I didn’t feel I would be authentic to come and post that he is a feminist after what he had done,” she said.
It didn’t help that Liberal MPs had spotted her hugging Ms. Wilson-Raybould outside the House of Commons, she added.
Ms. Nassif announced in late August that she would not seek re-election in the safe Liberal riding of Vimy, which she won with 46 per cent of the vote in 2015. In a statement on Aug. 22, she said “recent events of a personal nature have motivated this decision.”
In the interview, Ms. Nassif said she had wanted to run again, and party officials forced her to issue the statement or they would announce publicly that she had been rejected as a candidate.
She maintains she was active in the riding and “met all the party requirements, whether financially, door knocking and bringing new members.” Ms. Nassif said she was one of the first Quebec MPs to meet the Liberal candidacy requirements – in April, 2018 – of having knocked on at least 3,500 doors or made 5,000 telephone calls, signed up 150 new members and added 30 new monthly donors.
Ms. Nassif provided a time line and other documents that she said are related to her rejection as the candidate in Vimy, one of the four ridings in Laval, just north of Montreal.
Starting in June, 2016, she alleged, she began experiencing continuous intimidation and harassment from Liberal MPs in the other three ridings, Yves Robillard, Angelo Iacono and Fayçal El-Khoury.
The three MPs, who are running for re-election, did not respond to requests for comment. Liberal spokesman Pierre-Olivier Herbert said the party has proper processes to deal with allegations of harassment.
“Though I cannot comment on specific instances, we believe that bullying of any kind is unacceptable and processes are in place that ensure all allegations are taken seriously," he said. "Everyone deserves to work and live in a safe environment free from harassment.”
Mr. Herbert confirmed the party’s nomination committee rejected Ms. Nassif’s candidacy, but refused to explain why. The nomination process gives the leader the final say on candidates.
“Decisions to approve or reject a potential candidacy are taken following an extensive review process, in accordance with the national rules for candidates," he said. "The committee’s decisions are final, and candidates are informed by way of a confirmation letter signed by the national campaign co-chairs.”
Ms. Nassif said that at a caucus retreat in Quebec in August, 2016, she complained about the bullying and harassment to Liberal MP Andrew Leslie, who was party whip, and to the women’s Liberal caucus.
Ms. Nassif told The Globe the three other Laval MPs objected to her attending a pre-Fête Nationale event in 2016 that they were not going to, cut her out of sitting at the head table at an interfaith dinner, wouldn’t let her read a message from Mr. Trudeau at a Laval-area event, and placed ads in a local paper in 2016 that featured them and excluded her.
Ms. Nassif told The Globe the three men would ignore her in the House of Commons, snicker behind her back and refuse to shake her hand in public.
“Oh my God, it is humiliating. You are not welcome ... it is humiliating. It was intentional,” she said.
Mr. Leslie told The Globe he tried to resolve the animosity between the four MPs, but declined to provide further detail, saying he is bound by confidentiality. Mr. Leslie is not seeking re-election.
Ms. Nassif spoke in the House of Commons on May 7, 2018, about the harassment.
“I myself have been bullied – I am not talking about sexual harassment – and I reported the people who tried to bully me," Ms. Nassif said in a speech, without providing names.
On April 27, 2019, she said, a party lawyer called her to a meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal and told her she had been overheard saying things that were not supportive of gay rights or the cannabis law, even though she voted for marijuana legalization and marched regularly in Montreal’s Pride parade.
The lawyer, Maxime Roy, also said she wasn’t present enough in her riding and alleged she was behind an attempt by one of her riding assistants, Vicken Darakdjian, to open a nomination contest against Mr. El-Khoury in Laval-les-ÎIes. Ms. Nassif vehemently denied the allegation, and later produced an affidavit from the assistant saying she was not involved. Mr. Roy said he had no comment on the matter when reached by phone.
Ms. Nassif also denied that she encouraged one of her riding executive members, Camille Nassar, to run against Mr. Robillard to be the candidate in his riding of Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. Neither MP faced a nomination fight.
“Now strong women like Jody Wilson-Raybould, like Jane Philpott, who are speaking the truth and speaking their minds and denouncing the wrongdoing, and me now. We are kicked out of the caucus and we are not nominated. I don’t think he is a real feminist leader,“ she said.
She told The Globe she also raised the harassment and the nomination directly in a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister on May 28, 2019.
Instead of taking her situation seriously, Ms. Nassif said the Liberal Leader allowed Quebec party brass to deny her the nomination based on what she called allegations from anonymous people that she was a troublemaker.
Ms. Nassif provided The Globe with a June 7, 2019, letter she wrote to Mr. Trudeau that summarized their telephone conversation of May 28.
“Since I was elected MP in 2015, I had the persistent impression that my fellow MPs did not take me seriously and treated me with disdain and condescension. I would compare this dynamic to the culture of the old-boys club. I started to feel intimidated to the point where I could not ignore it,” she wrote.
She reminded Mr. Trudeau that she had denounced the bullying at the caucus retreat in Saguenay in 2016, and noted that Mr. Trudeau told the caucus at the time that an issue of intimidation had been raised and such behaviour must stop. She told The Globe he did not mention any names.
Ms. Nassif wrote that she did not go public with the names of the MPs after she spoke about harassment in the House in May of last year.
“Several journalists and fellow MPs from the opposition parties tried to get the names of these MPs. Obviously, I remained discreet not to associate MPs from our party to this type of retrograde culture, while you put forward a message of positive politics,” she wrote.
She also denied she had encouraged her riding assistant to seek the nomination, telling Mr. Trudeau it would be “political suicide.” Ms. Nassif told The Globe she thought the telephone call went well and Mr. Trudeau indicated the party would approve her nomination in a few weeks.
“He said two times, I know Eva, you work the riding very, very well. He said a few weeks won’t stop you from campaigning and winning your riding,” she told The Globe.
“I expected the Prime Minister to be honest. He promised me that [the wait for approval] doesn’t stop me from winning the riding and I’ll get in touch with you as soon as possible with a positive answer. And how can you believe that your Prime Minister is not telling the truth?”
On Aug. 21, she said, Olivier Duchesneau, the Liberal Party’s deputy national campaign director, and Liberal national campaign co-chair Sylvie Paradis called her to the Chateau Champlain Hotel in Montreal.
“I know I was bullied out. I was kicked out. I was forced to resign,” she said. “They offered me an impossible choice – withdraw my nomination or face public humiliation. They told me I had 24 hours to decide and that no appeal was possible. I withdrew my nomination to avoid what I knew was coming – a campaign of embarrassment, baseless smears and lies from the Liberal Party. In the end, however, I am glad that I withdrew. Knowing what I know now, I could not, in good conscience have run as a Liberal, in support of intellectual dishonesty and cognitive dissonance.”
Ms. Nassif is the only Liberal incumbent in Quebec not to receive the party’s nod for a second term.
Earlier this month, the Liberal Party nominated businesswoman and Greek community leader Annie Koutrakis as the Liberal candidate in Vimy.