Are we to be ruled by a mob?
The decision by the Ontario executive of the Liberal Party of Canada to call a new nomination meeting in Mississauga East should alarm citizens of all parties right across this country.
It strikes at the legitimacy of the most fundamental process of our democratic system - the choice of candidates for election to Parliament.
- On May 15, the Liberal party held a nominating convention in Mississauga East, just west of Toronto. It was won by 71 votes by a 35-year-old consultant in public relations, Albina Guarnieri.
The losing candidate, Armindo Silva, appealed to have an arbitration board declare him rather than Guarnieri the winner, or alternatively to set aside the election and call a new convention.
- The arbitration board of three prominent lawyers heard Silva's complaint and examined his evidence over four days in May and June. At the beginning of July it gave a decision against Silva and upheld the nomination victory of Guarnieri.
- Silva then appealed to the Ontario executive committee of the Liberal party.
- On July 9, without hearing the evidence, the Ontario Liberal executive overruled the arbitration board, overturned the result of the nomination meeting and called for a new nomination meeting in Mississauga East.
Process set aside
The decision sets aside a careful, quasi-judicial process with a political judgment that gives every sign of being partial and tainted.
Armindo Silva, the losing candidate, is part of a cartel of people who set out together to gain control of several Liberal riding associations in Metro Toronto. They appealed to ethnic pride and they sought to ride ethnic power to Parliament.
Among them are Tony Ianno, an aide to Premier David Peterson, who defeated former Liberal cabinet minister John Roberts for the nomination in Trinity-Spadina; Joe Volpe, who defeated sitting MP Roland de Corneille for the nomination in Eglinton-Lawrence; and Jasbir Singh, a Sikh who tried unsuccessfully for the nomination in Etobicoke North.
The four worked together as a team and brought a new turbulence to the politics of Metro Toronto.
When Silva lost, he made wild accusations, first in the press and then in his statement of complaint before the arbitration board, against the Liberal officials who ran the nomination meeting and against Guarnieri and her supporters.
He charged that Ted Lojko, then executive director of the party in Ontario, "continually disrupted the meeting . . . and conspired . . . to assist Ms. Albina Guarnieri."
His many accusations against the winning candidate were even more serious.
"Ms. Albina Guarnieri counselled several of her supporters to change their clothes and alter their appearance so that they could attempt to vote again and be less likely to be caught in that process by the scrutineers and the deputy returning officers."
Scathing in their judgment
The arbitration board, made up of lawyers Malcolm M. Mercer, Cathy Kerr and Carl Quenneville, were scathing in their judgment. They rejected the charges of bias and conspiracy against the Liberal officials presiding over the meeting.
"These allegations were utterly unfounded on the evidence heard by us. It is hard to believe that able counsel could have drafted such inflammatory allegations and then fail to even seriously attempt to prove them."
The board cautioned that volunteer Liberal members will refuse to preside over meetings if they are to be subject to such abuse.
So also with the grave charges of multiple voting and other frauds.
"All of the allegations appear to be vague and at large. We do not find the evidence of multiple voting and unqualified voting to have much weight at all."
The board not only failed to uphold the scurrilous charges. It served Silva a reproof.
"Those who seek equity must do equity. This is not so in this case, given the allegations of intentional impropriety made and not proven, nor even seriously attempted to be proven."
Yet, the executive, presided by Elvio DelZotto, chose to reject the board's findings and reward the scurrilous politics of Silva by granting his request for a new convention.
Why? We shall see tomorrow.