For some Ontario politicians, Premier David Peterson’s combative statements in Ottawa last week on federal free trade negotiations with the United States were the opening shots in a provincial election expected this fall. That interpretation saw Peterson’s two-year-old minority Liberal government campaigning on the claim that it needs a majority mandate in order to strengthen the premier’s hand in dealing with the federal government
over free trade. Said Brian Harling, campaign manager for the Ontario New Democratic Party: “There has been a lot of speculation that Peterson will choose to run against Brian Mulroney, presenting himself as a defender of Ontario.” Despite the existence of a potential campaign issue, and with many Liberals urging Peterson to capitalize on his consistently strong lead in provincial opinion polls, a recent round of infighting over election candidates has provoked some doubts and disarray in the party. On a dozen occasions since February, candidates for party nominations have taken complaints to a party arbitration board, accusing their opponents of padding membership lists. Others have complained that the party hierarchy has interfered in local constitu-
ency contests. Said Pamela Gutteridge, the party’s executive director: “It does not help the party to go public with its internal differences.”
But defeated nominee Mario Sergio, for one, pressed his complaints publicly last week, charging that the election of rival Laureano Leone in the suburban Toronto Downsview riding was tainted. He charged that some of the voters were not legally party members. Said Sergio: “There are a lot of upset Liberals in this community.”
The arbitration board, which includes senior party officials and former candidates, has dismissed other allegations, among them a charge that voting lists in one nomination fight included nonresidents. But in Etobicoke West, two disgruntled candidates hired lawyers to press their claims that a May 3 nomination meeting was mishandled. Leonard Braithwaite, a former legislative member who came second in that contest, hired criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan to argue that party regulations were breached during the rowdy nomination meeting when riding officials accepted ballots that had not been marked in secret.
For their part, Liberal officials dismissed the problems as the isolated and inevitable consequence of the party’s rise in popularity. Arbitration board g chairman James Graham noted 1 that the party had trouble 1 fielding a full slate of 125 can1 didates for the 1985 election. But with opinion polls indicating a Liberal majority if an election were held now—Liberals currently hold 51 legislature seats, Conservatives 50 and the NDP 23 (one seat is vacant)—some ridings have attracted as many as 10 would-be nominees. As a result, Graham said, some hotly contested nominations were bound to be “dramatic.” Even so, party officials say that nomination rules will be reviewed for future elections.
But other Liberals warn that the controversy has already caused defections. Said former Tory Peter Hesky, who complained to the party about his opponents’ tactics during his losing fight for the Liberal nomination in Don Mills: “My supporters are assessing whether they will back the NDP or the Tories.”
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