Why you should care about secret federal nominations in Kamloops and the Okanagan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why you should care about secret federal nominations in Kamloops and the Okanagan

By announcing in February that she was going to retire, Kamloops-Thompson-Nicola Conservative MP Cathy McLeod sparked the only visible nomination race in the region.
May 23, 2021 - 11:00 AM

It's the long weekend in May and we're still in the middle of a pandemic so a federal election and how local candidates are chosen likely isn't on the radar for most people.

But there’s a mostly secretive process going on in the background that will determine who is going to speak for the residents of the five Thompson and Okanagan ridings in the region in the next federal parliament and most voters will have no part in that process. Constituents can only vote for the candidate the party has chosen.

Secretive is the appropriate word because efforts by iNFOnews.ca to find out how the nomination process is running, deadlines for signing up new members and election times have come up mostly with no responses from the three major political parties or formulaic emails such as this one: “While we don’t comment on the specifics of individual nominations, we’re ready to elect even more talented, diverse, and hardworking community leaders as part of our Liberal team, including in riding name and across B.C.” That's a line in an email response from one of three regional Liberal riding association presidents with the same form letter. The other two riding association presidents did take the time to include the name of their ridings.

But many of these nomination races actually determine who will be the MP for the riding.

“That’s especially true in ridings that have historically leaned one way or another,” Sean Holman, associate professor of journalism at Mt. Royal University in Calgary, told iNFOnews.ca. “The real race actually happens during the nomination meeting for whatever party is favoured in that riding so these can be very consequential contests. That’s why it’s in the public’s interest that the public knows what’s happening during those contests.”

So, why are the parties not calling for candidates to join in the races and sign up new members to the party, which is a requirement to vote?

"What we’ve seen is that these nomination races can be very contentious and, increasingly, the party leadership wants to be able to control who the candidate is, as opposed to having the local party members making that decision,” Holman said.

It also stems from the long-standing Canadian political tradition of decisions on legislation being made in closed cabinet sessions, the adherence to cabinet and caucus solidarity and confidentiality. Canadians, therefore, have accepted that political decisions and candidate selections are largely done in secret.

The NDP’s Kelowna-Lake Country riding association recently sent an email to members saying there is “chatter in the news that there will probably be a federal election called sometime this year.”

It says the association is “in the process of getting a candidate nominated” and, therefore, is asking for donations. There is nothing in the email about the nomination process itself or asking candidates to come forward.

The NDP did acclaim Bill Sundhu in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo and Sarah Eves in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola in early April, with little or no pre-appointment publicity.

Eves is a special needs teacher in Merritt but most of that riding's populations is in West Kelowna with a spur into downtown Kelowna and it includes Peachland and Summerland.

“This is just speculation but, it could simply be that no one really cares about the riding because they’re going to lose it anyway so it doesn’t matter who it is,” Holman said. “That kind of early selection and discounting the riding can be problematic because, depending on what happens on a national level, some ridings can become far more competitive than were originally anticipated.”

That may not be the case in Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola with Conservative Dan Albas holding it since 2011. Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo has been held by Conservatives since it was created in 2004.

The NDP also acclaimed their sitting MP in South Okanagan-West Kootenay, Richard Cannings, in January.

The one real and fairly public race happening is in Kamloops-Thompson-Nicola where Cathy McLeod has been the Conservative MP since 2015.

On Feb. 4, she announced she would retire at the end of her term, whenever that may be (the next mandated federal election isn’t until October 2023 but, as the Liberals are in a minority situation, in theory it could happen any time).

Less than 10 days later, on Feb. 13, Tourism Kamloops CEO Beverley DeSantis was the first of four candidates to throw her hat in the ring.

She was followed nine days later by Michael Grenier, developer and founder of the Tobiano resort community.

A short while later Frank Caputo, the president of the riding association joined in, followed by Barriere Mayor Ward Stamer.

While all those nominations are public, there is no information available to the general public on when the nominations close, the deadline for signing up new members or when the election will be held.

Efforts to get that information from various sources, including McLeod’s constituency office, didn’t result in any answers by publication time.

“I wish we knew,” one woman working in the office said.

The reality is, the general public does not really seem to care, inured as they are to this culture of secrecy, Holman said.

“Many Canadians don’t actually pay that much attention to what’s going on their own country,” he said. “That’s because, I think, a lot of Canadians are under the impression that Canada is boring, especially in comparison to the United States. The fact of the matter is, that’s just not true. Canada is actually an infinitely fascinating place. It’s just very secretive, so it creates the impression of boring.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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