Controversy over Justin Trudeau's decision to bar Christine Innes from seeking the Liberal nomination in a byelection in Trinity-Spadina continued unabated Thursday, with the local Liberal executive condemning the leader's move as undemocratic.
Meanwhile, social activist Joe Cressy was exploiting Liberal disarray as he prepared to officially launch Friday his bid to become the NDP candidate for the byelection.
"Residents of Trinity-Spadina deserve an MP who will stand up and fight for them, not a political party that is more interested in fighting among themselves," he said in a statement.
The riding was left vacant last week when New Democrat MP Olivia Chow resigned to pursue a bid to become Toronto mayor.
No date has yet been set for the byelection but Cressy has wasted no time declaring his intention to run and rolling out an impressive list of endorsements. Among those who've backed Cressy already is city councillor Mike Layton, son of late NDP leader Jack Layton and Chow's stepson.
While the NDP are favoured to hold on to the riding, it has in the past swung between the NDP and Liberals. Innes' husband, Tony Ianno, held Trinity-Spadina for the Liberals from 1993 until 2006, when he was defeated by Chow.
Innes ran for the Grits in 2008 and 2011, losing both times to Chow.
David MacNaughton, Liberal campaign co-chair in Ontario, acknowledged that the continuing controversy over Innes' candidacy is hardly the best way to start a byelection campaign.
"The sooner we can get somebody nominated and Liberals can pull together, the better off we'll be, rather than rehashing this," he said in an interview.
However, members of the Liberal executive in the riding aren't quite so ready to move on. In a statement issued Thursday, they accused the leader of breaking his promise to allow open nomination meetings in all ridings.
"There was absolutely no due or fair process ... and there was absolutely zero local involvement," riding president Julia Metus said in the statement.
"This is contrary to everything the Liberal party — new or otherwise — is supposed to stand for."
However, an earlier statement posted online Wednesday night was much more conciliatory than the statement which was issued to the media on Thursday.
While it conveyed the executive's "disappointment" with the decision to block Innes it also urged members to rally round the party to win the byelection.
The initial statement was approved by the executive at an urgent meeting Wednesday evening, Metus said in an interview. However, when it was subsequently discovered that executive members had been blocked from accessing the party's membership database, it was decided that a "much stronger message" should be sent.
Liberal national director Jeremy Broadhurst said the denial of access had nothing to do with the controversy over Innes. He said all access to the Trinity-Spadina membership data was shut down earlier Wednesday after receiving complaints that one of the mayoral campaigns appeared to be using information could only have come from the party's confidential data base.
Still, the dust-up sparked by that relatively minor matter is indicative of the extent of tensions among Liberals over the riding.
MacNaughton last week cited complaints of bullying and intimidation tactics by Ianno for the decision to bar Innes in Trinity-Spadina. She was also barred from seeking a nomination in any riding for the 2015 general election.
Trudeau this week defended the move as necessary to demonstrate that party infighting will no longer be tolerated.
Innes has denied the allegations. She maintains she's being punished for refusing to rule out challenging Chrystia Freeland, one of Trudeau's hand-picked star recruits, in a nomination contest for the 2015 election.
In the statement Thursday, the executive accused the party of making "unproven and malicious allegations against the candidate and her family to cover up its desire to control the nomination process."
Trinity-Spadina and the existing riding of Toronto Centre, which Freeland won in a byelection late last year, will be chopped into three new ridings for the general election, due to redistribution.
Freeland intends to run in the new riding of University-Rosedale and the party had asked Innes to promise to that she'd seek the nomination in the new riding of Spadina-Fort York. She refused.
While Innes had been preparing for months to run in the expected byelection, her team had simultaneously been trying to recruit support for a pro-Innes slate to take control of the University-Rosedale executive.
Complaints lodged by several young Liberals, and obtained by The Canadian Press, specifically singled out Ianno for suggesting they'd have no future in the party if they supported Freeland and bad-mouthing Trudeau's leadership.
Metus said the executive has never had any complaints, nor was it given a chance to look into the allegations.
While MacNaughton said there has been "lots" of interest by potential nomination contestants since Innes was blocked, Metus doubted anyone could match the organization and army of volunteers that Innes had already assembled.
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