As someone who was blessed to work on Parliament Hill for close to a decade, there are certain things that I have come to appreciate over time that I might not have otherwise. There are things that, back when I was a volunteer working campaigns before working on the Hill, that used to rub me the wrong way and that I thought should be changed. But when I came to work on the Hill, I came to get a whole new appreciation for their utility and importance.
One of those things comes back to how parties choose candidates and the process of vetting a candidate. This is one of those things that is a hobby horse for some and is something that will likely come up at both the NDP and Liberals conventions coming up over the next couple of weeks. Some believe that the central party shouldn’t have a say in who a local riding association elects to be their candidate or that a party has ulterior motives for vetting a candidate. Some say that this is a way to get their preferred candidates and such.
Those are arguments that can be persuasive to some, but they overlook a lot. Namely the fact that not all candidates are upfront or honest about their past, while others forget or overlook things, they have done in the past that could be problematic. Those things then come up, usually at the worst possible time, and hurt not only that candidate, but every other candidate running under that party banner. That’s a lot to be riding on such things, which is why it’s so important.
If you want a real world, current day example of why this is so important, you can look North to the territorial election that’s going on in Yukon right now. It’s a tight race and the sitting Liberal government there is trying to get re-elected. Any mistake or oversight at this point could really hurt their chances to winning. And just like clockwork, a clear vetting fail has now jumped up, which is putting outgoing Minister of Highways and Public Works, Minister of the Public Service Commission and MLA for Whitehorse West Richard Mostyn into a spotlight I’m sure they don’t want right now. A spotlight that brought forward this column from the Yukon News, and some disturbing commentary in it:
That piece by Mostyn was published back in July of 2010, and is still sitting out there on the Yukon News website as of my writing this. In this column, he compares “Big Oil” and “Big Native” (whatever the offensive Hell that’s supposed to mean), and basically pustulates through a series of offensive thoughts that while “society loves to challenge the motives and methods of “Big Oil””, it “doesn’t do a good job challenging “Big Native.”” Yeah, he actually wrote a whole piece on that. And not a century ago, but in 2010. Through out the piece Mostyn keeps alluding to Indigenous peoples exercising their Indigenous rights in their own territories as “the dontworryaboutit defence”, as if there is something wrong with these Indigenous peoples exercising their rights and culture. It doesn’t take a lot to see how this whole piece is offensive and worse.
So when it came time for someone like Mr. Mostyn to approach the Yukon Liberal Party to run for them in Whitehorse West, you’d think that this was something they’d want to know. You’d think that they’d want to know of they were associating with someone who expressed such views in public, in print. You’d think that those who were already sitting Yukon Liberal MLA’s or were looking to run for the Yukon Liberals would want to know this too, because who would want to be associated with such offensive words? Is it fair to those innocent other candidates to be facing what all those Yukon Liberal candidates will face in the days to come because this was overlooked? Heck, given that Mostyn sat in cabinet, you have to wonder how such views might have affected him in his duties as a Minister of the Crown.
The bigger point here is that this failure to properly vet this candidate has rightfully opened up a long series of important questions that the Yukon Liberals now have to answer for. In such a tight race, this is the kind of thing that could tip a seat (or more) one way or another and could mean the difference between being in government or not. With stakes that important, surely that would merit a simple, professional vetting, right? That’s something that the vast majority of riding associations simply don’t have the capacity to do, which is why a central party takes it on.
And that is where my mind has come around on this topic. As someone whose run or worked on too many campaigns, I’ve seen too many candidates and lost too much valuable campaign time having to speak to the actions or words of some random candidate from a no-hope riding instead of the issues that matter. I’ve seen too many chances at making real progress for Canadians who need it get sidelined because a good vet of a candidate didn’t get done. Doing that important bit of hard work up front will save a party, it’s candidates and the important issues that they care about most a world of problems later.
So when those suggest that central parties should have the power to vet candidates and that everything should rest with the riding association, I’ll happily present the latest example of what a failure to vet looks like. Today it’s Mr. Mostyn, tomorrow there will be another, and so on. Running for a party is not running on your own. As soon as you sign up with a party to run for, you have joined a team, for better or worse. And as soon as you do that, you have a responsibility to those on your team that you are seeking to run with. Some may not like that, but that’s the truth. And I don’t believe it’s fair to all those other members of the team to see their campaigns and the issues they care so deeply about get sidetracked because of the past actions or words of others. I feel safe in saying that a lot of the Yukon Liberal candidates are saying that to themselves today, as they wish in this moment their party had done a better job in vetting this one candidate in particular.