The London Free Press with Anna Esselment 26 August 2019
Ramal, a two-term former McGuinty-era politician, had been in the race to become the Liberal candidate in the east London riding, a former Liberal seat going open in this fall’s election with the retirement of New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen who snatched it from the Liberals 13 years ago.
Ramal said he signed up more than 3,500 new party members, a record in his political career, only to watch the party red-light his candidacy in favour of a rival, Mohamed Hammoud, who’s expected to be acclaimed Tuesday night.
“I’m disappointed and I’m hurt,” Ramal, who ran the federal Liberals in the same riding in 2015, but lost, said Monday.
“I’m being blocked from being part of their team. I’ve run both federally and provincially, and every single time I’ve won the nomination,” he said, adding: ” I never thought for one minute in my life I would be blocked. It’s hurtful.”
Ramal said he asked party officials why he was barred from the nomination race, but the party wouldn’t disclose that.
“It could be anything,” he said. “They said the rules and regulations of the Liberal party didn’t obligate them to tell me the reason.”
Political infighting over nominations isn’t unusual in Canadian politics, but some observers say the process that political parties use to select their candidates could be more transparent.
In an email sent to London-Fanshawe riding association members, national Liberal campaign co-chair Nikki Hipkin said only one nomination contestant “successfully completed the nomination application process.”
“Therefore, Mohamed (Hammoud) will be acclaimed at the nomination meeting as our Liberal candidate in the next general election in October,” the statement said.
A copy of the email was obtained by The Free Press.
In a separate statement Monday to The Free Press, the Liberal Party of Canada declined to disclose why Ramal’s nomination application wasn’t approved.
“The nomination process is being conducted fully in line with our national nomination rules,” party communications director Parker Lund wrote in an email.
“Liberals in London—Fanshawe will nominate Mohamed Hammoud as their Team Trudeau 2019 candidate.”
Hammoud is a London-based speaker, leadership development and cultural diversity facilitator, his LinkedIn profile states.
He isn’t well-known to the riding association executives, just-resigned board member Vince Trovato – who said most of the association’s board resigned in protest over what happened to Ramal – noted.
“He’s never been in the political arena whatsoever, and all of a sudden he’s the only qualified candidate to run?” Trovato asked. “I don’t know who this guy is, who just came into the picture.”
Riding associations are local groups of party faithful that work to raise money and organize support between and during elections. During elections, they help their candidate mount a campaign.
Nomination races are won by signing up new party members in the riding and then having them show up and vote for their candidate of choice when the nomination meeting is held.
Ramal had been enlisting new Liberals since January to vote for him in the nomination race, Trovato said.
“I call it a scandal,” he said, of the party nixing Ramal’s candidacy.
“We’ve been working very hard. We knew that Khalil would be the best candidate.”
Ramal was elected as the MPP for London-Fanshawe in 2003 when Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals swept aside the Ernie Eves-led Progressive Conservatives, starting a 15-year Liberal run in power.
Ramal kept his Queen’s Park seat in the 2007 election, but was defeated by New Democrat Teresa Armstrong in 2011.
Why a party would stop a candidate from seeking a nomination could be any of a number of reasons, from something as simple as incorrect paperwork to something more strategic, said Anna Esselment, a University of Waterloo political science professor.
“It’s possible the Liberals think that they can take this riding,” she said of London-Fanshawe, one of only a handful of seats in the wider London region with no incumbents running in the next election.
“It’s possible that they think that the contestant who is now denied is not the one to close the dea,” Esselment said.
“They may figure it is a competitive riding for them. They may want to put who they think is the most competitive person forward.”
The internecine Liberal fighting in London-Fanshawe is par for the course in a contested nomination, one observer said.
“Whenever there is a contest, there are always people who are going to be disappointed and/or angry,” said Akaash Maharaj, chief executive of the Mosaic Institute, a Toronto-based think tank on cultural diversity.
“If there is a perception that the race was held in a way that was fair and open, usually those concerns dissipate. . . The lasting scars tend to be in situations where people feel that there has been misconduct or something unfair has happened.”
While any race can be divisive, tensions flare when parties promise open and fair nominations, but make behind-the-scenes moves to bolster a preferred candidate, Maharaj said.
“I think where people can feel most aggrieved is when they have been promised an open process and have received the opposite, when there’s a masquerade,” he said.
Appointing or acclaiming candidates is relatively common in Canada, a recent study by the non-partisan Samara Centre for Democracy found.
Using several data sources, researchers at the national think tank examined how candidates who ran for Canada’s major political parties over the last five federal elections from 2004 to 2015 were selected.
Of the more than 6,600 candidates, less than one in five arrived on the ballot through a competitive nomination race.
Federal political parties directly appointed more than 2,700 candidates with no nomination race at all.
“I would say it is a bit of a blind spot. Every time there is a federal election, there’s thousands of candidates running but we know very little of the process behind selecting these candidates,” said research analyst Adelina Petit-Vouriot.
“This is something Canadians now very little about. We wanted to, through this report, open this black box.”
Ramal said he plans to stay active in the community and hopes that by speaking out, others seeking office won’t have to go through what he did.
While it’s possible to appeal the party’s decision, Ramal said it’s unlikely he will do that.
“There’s not enough time to appeal (before the election),” he said. “The party blocked me from doing what I love to do, what I care about.”
The nomination meeting to acclaim Hammoud is scheduled Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Best Western Lamplighter Inn.
Hammoud will face New Democrat Lindsay Mathyssen, the daughter of the riding’s retiring MP, Green Party candidate Tom Cull, People’s Party of Canada candidate Bela Kosoian and Conservative Michael van Holst, a member of London city council.
Anna Esselment is an assistant political science professor at the University of Waterloo.