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Lesbian teacher barred from running for Ontario NDP

Diana Andrews told she cannot run at a raucous nomination meeting in Etobicoke North

Diana Andrews consults Robert's Rules of Order while challenging the party's decision to keep her off the nomination ballot. Credit: Rob Salerno

A nomination meeting for the provincial New Democrats in Etobicoke North devolved into accusations of corruption and usurpation of the democratic process Wed night when it was announced that former candidate and out lesbian Diana Andrews would not be permitted to stand for the nomination, and that the only approved candidate is Vrind Sharma from nearby Brampton.

 
Andrews had previously carried the NDP banner in the riding during this year’s federal election, in which she placed third but brought the party to its best showing there in more than 20 years, capturing 23 percent of the vote.
 
About 70 people met at the Forum Banquet Hall and Convention Centre on Aug 17 for the nomination meeting only to be told that just one candidate had been approved for the nomination.
 
Party vice-president Scott Piatkowski, who was chairing the meeting, lost control shortly after he made his announcement, as Andrews and her supporters challenged the party’s ruling and attempted to get him to allow her to stand for the nomination.
 
Glyn Wood, a supporter of Andrews, alleged that the party’s decision to bar her violated its constitution, as Andrews was not given official notice or explanation for why her candidacy was rejected by the party.
 
Piatkowski asserted that Andrews did receive an explanation and eventually the party’s provincial secretary Darlene Lawson addressed the crowd to say that she did give Andrews notice and explanation personally. She refused to elaborate on the explanation, citing confidentiality rules.
 
But Andrews insisted that she had not received official explanation or the right to contest the secretary’s decision before the provincial council, as is her right under the party’s constitution. Andrews asked Lawson to tell the crowd why she was barred, even agreeing to waive her right to confidentiality. Lawson stayed silent.
 
Andrews tells Xtra that she was blackballed because she is currently pursuing legal action against her employer, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. Andrews would not elaborate on the nature of the action, but says that she had been told in July that her legal issue would be a distraction from the party message.
 
According to articles 6.07 (1-2) of the party constitution available on the Ontario NDP website, the vetting process is supposed to take place after a nomination meeting:
 
“The candidate selected at a nomination meeting must be endorsed by the Provincial Council before he/she becomes the Party’s official candidate,” the constitution reads. “If the Provincial Council decides not to endorse a selected candidate, the Provincial Council shall provide the constituency association and the selected candidate with a full explanation of its reason and, if requested, shall provide the selected candidate and the constituency association with a full hearing before the Provincial Council.”
 
Members shouted at Piatkowski.
 
“I think this whole meeting is defunct. It is not transparent. It is not democratic,” said one man.
 
“I have been an NDP member 40 odd years… You are throwing the party down the drain,” said Aubrey NcNaughton, before storming out of the room.
 
Waving a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, Andrews then argued with Piatkowski over whether the members gathered could overrule the party decision to bar her nomination. As the argument wore on, members of the audience expressed confusion that they were called to a nomination meeting where there wasn’t a choice of candidates.
 
“I’m only 13, but if there’s only one candidate, this isn’t a nomination. This is an acclamation,” said one girl.
 
As Andrews continued questioning the chair’s decision, Piatkowski got visibly annoyed. “Stop interrupting and we’re going to acclaim the candidate.”
 
That prompted federal NDP riding association president Patricia Crooks to exclaim from the back of the room, “If you were in Richmond Hill or downtown Toronto, you could not do this! You’re insulting us! This is not democratic! Cancel the meeting!”
 
Piatkowski pressed on with the meeting asking those present to vote to accept Sharma’s nomination, at which point Andrews shouted, “This is terrible! You don’t care about the community!”
 
Crooks then announced that she had a petition signed by more than 1,000 people from the riding demanding that Andrews have the opportunity to run.
 
Piatkowski did not acknowledge the petition when it was put in front of him. He pressed on and asked members to endorse Sharma by raising a card that had been given to members when they signed in. This may have violated the section of the party constitution that requires a secret ballot.
 
Only four people in the room raised placards endorsing Sharma’s candidacy. Piatkowski then announced that the result confirms Sharma as the party’s candidate, refusing calls from the floor demanding that they be given the right to vote against.
 
Section 6.06 (2) of the party constitution requires that “In an uncontested nomination, in order for a member to become the candidate, he/she must be endorsed by a majority of the members present and voting.”
 
Someone at the back of the room called for a show of hands of people who wanted to give Andrews the right to stand for the nomination. It was impossible to get an accurate count, but many more than four people raised their hands. Piatkowski ignored the display.
 
After the meeting, Crooks’ words were even harsher.
 
“This was elitists coming into a minority community and shoving a candidate down our throats,” she says. “They know many people aren’t educated about the process and won’t question it.”
 
Adil Osobleh, who emigrated to Canada from Saudi Arabia 20 years ago, said the meeting has called her support for the NDP into question.
 
“I thought when I came here I chose a country with a democratic process. Tonight after what I saw, I’m going to find another process, another party,” she said.
 
After receiving the nomination, Sharma told the crowd he hoped for all of their support and even asked for Andrews’ support. The 26-year-old account manager says he grew up in the riding and lives just across its border in Brampton. He says his main priorities as a politician are helping seniors, eradicating poverty, reducing unemployment and crime and improving education.