A federal election could be coming soon. Very soon. Like in a week or so soon. If you're a registered political party and you're in this election to win it, what do you do now in the final days before a writ is (possibly) dropped? Why you dump your candidate and find someone new.
There are more than a few 'WTFs' flying around Winnipeg South Centre today as it is confirmed that Tory candidate Raymond Hall has been dumped by his party. Word leaked out Sunday, and by Monday it was all over. Hall hasn't said much, but reading between the lines and relying on party sources, it appears the riding association was not satisfied with Hall's work ethic. He has been a nominated candidate for nearly two years. His face graces billboards and bus benches all over the riding. He was touted as the kind of candidate that would finally topple Liberal MP Anita Neville, one of only two Grits left standing in the city of Winnipeg. That was then.
Now, Hall is being characterized as a quirky, unpredictable guy who would not get with the program. And by program, we mean the much-vaunted Conservative "play book" that the central party's war room drafts for ridings they want to steal from other parties. No one has actually leaked the play book, so it's anyone's guess about what's actually in it. What we do know is that the WSS Tory riding association has had trouble finding candidates who will stick by it. The Tory candidate in this riding in the last federal election, Trevor Kennerd, failed to take down Neville and Tories in the riding indicated it was because he couldn't or wouldn't stick to the play book. Is there any truth to this analysis? If we accept that Kennerd in fact did not follow the direction of the central party, then the result seems to suggest that the play book is at present untested.
What about Hall? Outside of politics, Hall did in fact bring some weird baggage to the table. A retired Air Canada pilot turned lawyer, Hall was a freelance whistle blower for years. He was quoted extensively in national media criticizing Air Canada for cutbacks and safety concerns. After he retired as a pilot, he successfully fought to reinstate two pilots who (like him) were forced to retire at age 60. This was done through a landmark ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Commission that determined Air Canada's forced retirement policy was unconstitutional. Ironically, this ruling not only made him public enemy number one for Air Canada, it also made him unpopular with the Air Canada Pilots Association, the union representing pilots. The ACPA membership supports the principle of forced retirement at age 60 for reasons that are not entirely clear. And they didn't like Hall upsetting the apple cart with his court case.Hall also filed a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board alleging that the ACPA failed to properly represent the retired pilots when they wanted to file a grievance.
Although it's hard to see how that battle could affect riding politics, sources in the riding confirm that they didn't like Hall's case against Air Canada and didn't like the fact that he used the Canadian Human Rights Commission to make his point. Any way you slice it, the RA didn't like Hall and has decided to go in a different direction. However, having laid an egg with Kennerd in 2008 and following that up with an untimely execution of Hall, perhaps the problem is not with the candidates, but with the riding association.
It seems a bit spiteful to dump a candidate this close to an election, even if he was not putting in all the work necessary to topple the Grits. Perhaps the riding association executive should have rolled up its sleeves and helped Hall to more solid footing. A good RA exec can make all the difference. (My father was part of a riding association who helped former Tory MP and cabinet minister Otto Jelinek get elected in the early 1970s in Toronto. It has always stood to me as proof that a group of smart people can, if they want, get almost anyone elected. See former Ontario Premier Mike Harris for more evidence.)
Hall is the fall guy now. He has refused to give his side of what happened. But it seems at this very late stage of the game that the riding association has to take at least as much, if not more, blame for the Conservative Party's inability to mount a serious challenge in Winnipeg South Centre.