André Forbes is no longer the Liberal candidate for Manicouagan, Quebec, after it was revealed he had made racist statements regarding Aboriginals. The Liberals won’t comment on how he got through the screening process, but I would like to make a couple of observations if I may. Number one: this was a contested nomination, so it really was incumbent upon the local riding association to pick up the slack on this kind of screening as opposed to the central party office.
Why is this important? Because one of the biggest problems with our democracy right now is the fact that the central parties have too much control over the nomination process, which leads to less independence for MPs and a further disconnection between the central party and the grassroots membership. In fact, one of the best reforms we could make to the system right now is to amend the Elections Act to remove the ability of a party leader to sign off on all nominations, because this takes the power away from the grassroots membership, to whom the power to choose your representatives should belong.
Is this incident unfortunate? Absolutely. There should be no place for racism in our political discourse (not that it’s stopping the current bout of populist xenophobia the Conservatives are inflaming to with their human smuggling and “backdoor immigration” fear-mongering). If the people on the ground had been doing their jobs, he shouldn’t have been eligible to run, or at best, his views would have been aired enough for the membership to defeat him. Should the central office have better trained the riding office in screening measures? Maybe. But the fact that a grassroots membership process was allowed to happen without the central office keeping a heavy hand over the candidate nomination process should actually be seen as a good thing. Too much central control over nomination races is something that should be avoided.
This all being said, other parties should be very careful in trying to make hay of this – especially those parties that purport to be trying to make this country “more democratic.” It’s not like the NDP has never had candidates that were dropped during a campaign for unseemly revelations *cough*Julian West*cough*. And on the flip side, we’ve seen a lot of backlash – up to and including mass riding association resignations – in Conservative ridings lately about top-down control of local nomination races, with shifting rules, parachute candidates and accusations of “rigged” nominations. This is not behaviour that we should be encouraging.
Is it a delicate balance? Yes. But we should remember that if we want to live in a democracy, we should refrain from demanding more central control that takes the power away from the people on the ground.