TORONTO – A former Conservative MP, personally welcomed into the Liberal fold by Justin Trudeau, finds out this weekend if she gets to take on Finance Minister Joe Oliver in the looming federal election.
The messy fight in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence pits Eve Adams, who crossed the floor to join the Liberals in February, against longtime Liberal Marco Mendicino.
Myer Siemiatycki, a political science professor at Ryerson University, said the high-profile nomination battle poses risks for Trudeau — regardless of who wins — by calling into question his political principles and judgment in his having embraced Adams, who doesn’t live anywhere near the riding.
“She was such a strident member of the Harper team, such a cheerleader for the Harper government and approach,” Siemiatycki said of Adams.
“This can do damage especially in the context of there having been a very strong and credible alternate candidate.”
Both camps, however, are playing down the Trudeau connection, saying he has stayed out of the nomination fight.
Charles Bird, who speaks for Mendicino, said Friday the Liberal leader has made it clear he wanted a fair and open nomination process — and that has happened.
“Justin has been nothing but gracious and encouraging towards him,” said Bird, who conceded Adams has some strong backers.
“She has attracted a number of high-profile volunteers to her campaign but she hasn’t done quite as well with Liberals who actually live in the riding.”
One such Liberal, veteran politician Mike Colle who represents the riding provincially, famously observed in February that Adams would win the nomination over his “dead body.” He hasn’t changed his views.
Colle noted that Adams worked for Ontario’s former Conservative premier Mike Harris for years before becoming a Harper foot soldier and her fiance, Dimitri Soudas, was for years Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s mouthpiece.
“All of a sudden, we’re supposed to embrace her as this Liberal saviour?” Colle said. “This doesn’t really come down as being something that’s rational.”
Tom Allison, who is running Adams’ nomination campaign, said she is the best person to knock off Oliver.
Allison dismissed the anger from some long-time Liberals with a “that’s politics” shrug. Some floor-crossings, he said, have been “tremendously successful.”
“Belinda Stronach saved our government,” Allison said in reference to her headline-grabbing defection from the Conservatives to the Liberals in 2005.
Veteran observer Nelson Wiseman said he had doubts about how much damage the Adams affair would do to Trudeau, saying it has little resonance outside the riding.
“It did hurt the image of the Liberals when she crossed the floor but that’s old news,” said Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
“That damage has been done. It was just another little incident in a longer narrative about Trudeau’s judgment. It has already been reflected in the polls.”
Adams ran afoul of the Conservatives as she fought for the party’s nomination in Oakville last year. She and Soudas were accused of breaking the rules by paying for memberships — allegations they denied. Similar allegations have now surfaced in Eglinton-Lawrence.
However, both camps are downplaying their formal challenges to some new memberships — apparently 2,800 for Adams and about 2,000 for Mendicino — calling the protests routine.
The contested members account for less than five per cent of the riding’s Liberals, and only two-thirds relate to who actually paid the sign-up fee, Allison said.
Mendicino, a lawyer who grew up in the riding and lives with his family there, helped prosecute the Toronto 18 terrorist case. Adams currently represents the Mississauga-Brampton South riding.