TORONTO, June 12, 2017 /CNW/ - A ground-breaking legal decision released today has established that political parties are not above the law when it comes to the fairness of their internal processes.
In a decision with important, long-term ramifications for holding political parties accountable to their members and to Canadians at large, the Ontario Divisional Court agreed that Toronto resident and NDP member Brian Graff had the right to a judicial review of his rejected leadership bid. The ruling effectively squashed attempts by the NDP to prevent judicial review of its actions.
At the same time, the decision had the unfortunate effect of bringing an end to Mr. Graff's bid to join the race for the NDP leadership. Despite noting that "it would have been preferable for the [NDP's] Leadership Rules to be clearer", Justice Ian Nordheimer ultimately ruled that party officials were within their rights to reject his candidacy. Lawyers for Mr. Graff had maintained that the party's reasons for doing so were contrary to its own leadership rules, unreasonable and motivated by bias.
Mr. Graff was the first NDP member ever refused entry into a leadership race. Unwilling to accept an arbitrary rejection of his candidacy, he committed significant personal resources to exposing a series of ever-changing, spurious and irrational grounds that NDP National Director Robert Fox used to "vet" Mr. Graff, keeping him out of the race.
In his decision, Justice Nordheimer rejected the NDP's argument that the courts are powerless to review the internal decisions involving a leadership race, stating that the voting public "has a very direct and significant interest in ensuring that the activities of political parties are carried out in a proper, open and transparent manner."
"This decision marks the first time a court has agreed to judicially review a party's leadership race process," said Nader Hasan, one of Mr. Graff's lawyers. "It sends an important message to all political parties that if they do not conduct themselves fairly and reasonably, their members may hold them accountable in court. And in a political system that relies so heavily on political parties, that's good news for democracy."
Mr. Graff was thrilled at having kept the NDP from completely shielding itself – and by extension, other political party hierarchies – from judicial scrutiny. Still, he questioned whether the NDP's poorly drafted leadership rules empowered party elites at the expense of the rights of its members. "To be truly democratic, members of any organization typically have the right to run to be an officer, including as leader. What good is a vote if your only choices were hand-picked by party elites? The NDP opposes 'pre-vetting' in Iran, yet practices it here without clear criteria. Few people join political parties since membership carries so little power, other than to vote."
While respecting the court's ruling, Mr Graff also questioned the stated reasons for his exclusion from the race. "The NDP's reasons for excluding me kept changing. One reason why they claimed to have rejected my candidacy was because I question party dogma on issues like electoral reform or immigration," said Graff. "I want to cut immigration in half to reduce unemployment and empower working people with a policy of full employment. Current policy favours employers and corporations, and has lead to low wages, unemployment and tenuous employment. Nobody is talking about that."
Mr. Graff applied to the party to run for the leadership last October. Six candidates have been registered for the leadership contest, though one candidate has since dropped out, citing hostile machinations by the NDP hierarchy aimed at thwarting his leadership bid.
SOURCE Stockwoods LLP