March 11, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 84  

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By-elections uglier, political experts say

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

Federal nomination battles always produce plenty of bubbling rhetoric, but an upcoming election has upped the ante, with MP-wannabes pulling out all the stops to get a comfy seat in Parliament.

Saturday’s Liberal party nomination battle for the riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek saw party stalwart Sheila Copps lose to Transport Minister Tony Valeri, a favourite of Prime Minister Paul Martin. But allegations of election impropriety made by the Copps campaign may get the RCMP and federal government involved.

Another example was Tuesday’s close vote in Newmarket-Aurora, where Belinda Stronach — who is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada — fought off an intense campaign launched by Lois Brown to win the Conservative nomination. Stronach’s organizers have said Brown was able to mount a strong opposition since she had the endorsement and possible assistance of leadership opponent Stephen Harper.

“In general, things are changing in the character of nomination battles,” said Paul Nesbitt-Larking, a professor of political science at Huron University College. “Parties are decreasingly places where you have a kind of continuing loyalty to political principles or ideals.”

Calling this new trend the “marketization of politics,” he said elections are being won on the basis of which candidate has the strongest campaign team. “[It is] the capacity of a machine to basically diminish and overcome the other machine.”

University of Toronto professor Nelson Wiseman said Martin’s rumoured personal involvement in the nomination battles has been inconsistent. “He’s picking and choosing how he applies his principles; it’s discretionary,” he said of Martin’s targeted election restrictions, which preclude unfavourable candidates from running. “He’s imposed his own rules.”

“It’s rougher right now because we have an election, though I don’t believe it’s imminent,” he added.

Politics is indeed a disorganized and messy “blood sport,” said Jacquetta Newman, a political science professor at King’s College, adding Martin’s treatment of Copps is no different. “It seems that the Liberal establishment turned against her,” Newman said. “They want something new.”

—with files from Jonathan Yazer



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