At one level, the Liberal ruckus in Toronto’s Trinity—Spadina riding is a sideshow of little consequence.
That party leader Justin Trudeau has blocked Toronto lawyer Christine Innes from seeking the Liberal nomination in an upcoming byelection will have no effect on the price of milk.
Most people, including those who happen to live in the downtown riding, will continue to go about their business, regardless of whom the Liberals finally choose in the race to replace former MP and now Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow.
But the Trinity—Spadina imbroglio does say something about the deep feuds still simmering within the Liberal Party.
More important, perhaps, it cannot help but take the shine off Trudeau who — up to now — has been taking the country by storm with his promise to do politics differently.
The decision to bar Innes’ candidacy came as a bolt from the blue.
The 52-year-old lawyer is a respected, long-time Liberal who now works as a political aide to Ontario Tourism Minister Michael Chan.
In 2013, she was co-chair of the party committee charged with overseeing the leadership race that ultimately chose Trudeau.
With the blessing of the party establishment, she’s run twice before, losing both times to Chow.
But Innes is also married to former Trinity—Spadina Liberal MP Tony Ianno. And therein lies another story.
Trinity—Spadina is a rough riding, one in which politicians from all sides play for keeps. Dirty tricks are not unknown.
Among those MPs who represented Trinity—Spadina, few played hardball as effectively as Ianno. With a machine that was the envy of his peers, this shrewd Liberal held the riding for 13 years, until 2006.
That’s when New Democrat Chow, no softie herself, finally managed to wrest it from him.
Ianno isn’t universally popular in the Liberal Party. As an MP, his fundraising methods occasionally raised eyebrows. Later, he was accused by the Ontario Securities Commission of stock manipulation, eventually accepting a plea deal in which he was slapped with a $100,000 fine and a five-year trading ban but absolved of all other allegations.
As the Star reported at the time, some of those who lost money were fellow Liberals convinced by Ianno to invest in the stock he allegedly manipulated. They weren’t happy.
All of which means that alarm bells went off at Liberal headquarters when volunteers in Trinity—Spadina claimed they were being harassed by members of Innes’ campaign team.
The Canadian Press reports that the complainants singled out Ianno himself. He is said to have warned volunteers that they would have no future in the party unless they supported Innes — not just in this nomination fight but in 2015 when the next general election is due.
Innes, by the way, denies that anyone on her campaign team was intimidating anyone.
The 2015 election provides the other complicating factor. Riding boundaries are due to change then. The northern half of Trinity—Spadina is to be merged into a riding called University—Rosedale. Ontario campaign co-chair David MacNaughton says the Liberals’ “working assumption” is that current Toronto Centre MP Chrystia Freeland, a Trudeau star candidate, will win the party’s nomination there.
To make all this happen smoothly, MacNaughton says, he had been trying to convince Innes to set her 2015 sights elsewhere — perhaps to the new riding of Spadina—Fort York. She declined to do so. As she explains it, she wanted to keep her options open.
Those were the dynamics when, last week, Trudeau axed Innes’ nomination bid. She says her sin lay in not deferring to Freeland. MacNaughton says no, that the deciding factor was the alleged intimidation. Four unnamed Liberals, he said, have signed statements claiming that they were bullied.
In the world of old politics, none of this would much matter. In the kind of politics that Trudeau is trying to promote, it does.
His pitch to voters is that he is new, open and very democratic. Yet the Liberal Trinity—Spadina saga is anything but. No matter which side is correct, it is an old, sad and rather sordid tale.