BY BRADLEY NORTHCOTE
In the Progressive Conservative nomination race for the newly minted provincial riding of Mississauga-Erin Mills, questions linger about who should have a say in the party’s choice of candidates.
The Ontario Progressive Conservative party recently overruled a recommendation by the local riding committee to disqualify some candidates. That, along with what he has called “widespread abuse” of the process, led to Bob Dechert dropping his candidacy in protest. Under current requirements, voters must be registered members of the party who live in the riding and who have paid a $10 membership fee. With a provincial election looming for 2018, and several newly drawn ridings up for grabs, any changes to the rules for nominations could shake up expectations for nominations in many communities.
Mississauga-Erin Mills is a central Mississauga suburban riding formerly known as Mississauga-Erindale. The redrawn boundaries will lower the new riding’s population from about 120,000 to about 117,000, a 2.5 per cent decrease.
Mississauga-Erindale, a Liberal stronghold, has been held by MPP Harinder Takhar since the riding was formed in 2007 from parts of Mississauga-Centre and Mississauga-West.
In a recent Toronto Sun interview, Dechert said having “hundreds of instant voters” with tenuous ties to the party hurts the campaign’s ability to reflect the party’s best interests. He questions how much influence newcomers, especially those who have worked with other parties, should have next to party faithfuls who have been involved for years.
Jamie Fletcher, who ran in the Liberal nomination race for the also newly minted federal riding of Mississauga-Erin Mills in 2015 and who is currently in the race for the federal Conservative candidacy in Ottawa South, says nomination processes at both levels should encourage longer-term membership, but not rely on high-profile endorsements from veteran members.
“An endorsement is like a job reference. My biggest issue was endorsements from people who didn’t know the candidate well,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher also agrees with Dechert’s recommendation of a required period of prior membership for voters in nomination campaigns. A rising star candidate’s new recruits, she says, aren’t likely to stick around and build a long-term support base for the party if the candidate loses or drops out. She says the party needs time to get people involved outside of nomination races.
As for membership fees, Fletcher says Dechert’s proposed changes would bring the Ontario PCs’ rules in line with those for federal Conservative nomination races. As of January 2015, the federal Conservatives require new members to pay their fees by credit card or personal cheques.
Still, Fletcher says, stricter rules must be balanced by encouragement of newcomers, “[Otherwise,] it creates an insider advantage.”
A party committee will decide how to act on Dechert’s recommendations.
Bob Dechert was unavailable for comment.
The nomination vote will be held on Sunday, Jan. 22, from noon to 5 p.m. in Spiegel Hall at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus.