By now everybody knows the Gerry Bance story, a now-former Conservative candidate in Scarborough - Rouge Park who was caught on film urinating in a coffee cup a couple of years ago when he worked as an appliance repairman. The obvious question is how could such a man end up as a candidate for higher office. As a resident of the Scarborough – Rouge Park riding, let me shed some light on the matter.
I attended the Conservative nomination meeting, which was held this spring, in order to support my favoured candidate, Paul Egli, a retired and distinguished businessman. In the contested nomination flight, Egli sold about three hundred memberships and felt pretty good about himself. In contrast, Bance sold over a thousand memberships and most of them showed up that night to vote for him. Egli was buried. The attendance at nomination meeting was bigger than at any nomination meeting I have ever attended – by an order of magnitude.
Gerry Bance, you see, is that character that should be familiar to anybody who has ever been involved in riding-level politics: the ethnic fixer, somebody who wields mysterious power over the people in his own ethnic community. In a democracy where the guiding principle is one man, one vote, somebody who can mobilize a thousand voters out to a nomination meeting is a powerful man indeed. Gerry Bance is (or was) such a man in the Tamil community.
At this point one can ask what’s wrong with that. In the strict legalistic sense, nothing. Bance followed the rules. His only sin was playing the game better than his opponent. As well, it is often argued that a contested nomination battle - with both sides selling memberships - is good for the health of a riding association. It is also often argued that ethnic outreach is also a good thing. These two assertions are correct, but we should not let this blind us to some questionable tactics that these two goals enable. For instance, how good is it for the health of the riding association to allow one-time members to determine the nomination? By allowing such a practice, the riding association concedes one of its most important decision – the nomination of its candidate - to unknowns whose allegiance to conservative principles is, to say the least, tangential. Disenfranchising your core support hardly boosts morale – or results in judicious decision-making.
For all the Liberals out there who might be reading this, I want to caution you against too much smugness. This sort of politics is relatively new to the Conservative Party. It blossomed with the ethnic outreach Harper has done in the past ten years. In contrast, such tactics have been going on in the Liberal party since time immemorial. A great example was the March 6, 2004 nomination vote in Hamilton East – Stoney Creek. Newly elected Liberal Party leader, Paul Martin was trying to oust Sheila Copps from the party. Both sides resorted to ethnic mobilization tactics. The resulting voter turnout was so huge (2,804 to 2,491) that even our dimwitted political reporters noticed. An alternate headline for this post could have been ‘Liberal tactics come to the Conservatives’.
So, if such tactics are more entrenched in the Liberal party, why does it seem to hurt the Conservatives the most? That is an excellent question. As a partial answer, it is interesting to note that the CBC made this video in 2012. The CBC website noted that the CBC only became aware of the identity of Gerry Bance from a tip sent to them just this Sunday night. Really? Bance was a failed Conservative candidate in 2006 and 2008. He was nominated again in May of this year. So, they only found out about it in the middle of a Federal Election? A cynic might wonder if they knew about it all along and were sitting on it until the most politically opportune moment to influence the vote. If the opposition parties had done this, that’s fair game. That’s how politics is played. But the CBC is a publicly funded broadcaster that has a legally mandated duty to be objective and impartial. They are not a private broadcaster who can slant their news anyway they want.
So, what should the Party do to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future? My solution is to raise the Party’s membership fee to $50. At $10, it is entirely too cheap. At $50, you still enable candidates in contested nomination fights to recruit new members and it is still possible for the grass-roots to wrestle boards when the sclerotic old guard needs to go. But by raising the membership fee so that it is no longer insignificant, you also inhibit backroom mechanics from making a complete mockery of the democratic process.