Brian Graff, who was disqualified from NDP race, gets another chance to run for leadership
A Canadian flag flies on under the Peace Tower in this file photo. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A Toronto man who was disqualified by NDP officials from running for the leadership of the federal party has dropped a legal challenge of that decision after being told he may reapply to become a candidate and that his new bid will be handled in a more transparent fashion.
Brian Graff, who joined the party eight months ago, filed a request for judicial review with the Ontario Superior Court in March after his candidacy for leadership was rejected. His lawyer, Nader Hasan, said the case was an attempt to shine a light on some basic unfairness around the way Canada’s political leaders are selected.
Mr. Graff abandoned his case on Tuesday after resubmitting an application to become a candidate in the race that will be decided in October. But his lawyers are holding out the possibility that the legal action could be restarted if the New Democrats require that Mr. Graff support the party’s policy positions – a condition that is not included in NDP leadership rules.
“I think all options for him remain on the table,” said Justin Safayeni, another of Mr. Graff’s lawyers.
“I think we’re hopeful that the NDP will play by the rules and that he’ll get a fair process this time around,” said Mr. Safayeni. “But, if he’s rejected on the basis of a factor that is outside of the rules, I think we’ll have to take a careful look at” returning to court.
A spokesman for the NDP said Tuesday that, to avoid “a costly and unnecessary legal proceeding,” party officials have agreed to take another look at Mr. Graff’s application but they remain convinced that the processes that were followed to assess his original request to become a candidate were both fair and appropriate.
Mr. Graff, who dabbles in real estate but has been unemployed since 2011, took out an NDP membership last August. He informed the party in October of his intention to run for the leadership, saying the prospective candidates at that time were not talking about the issues he considers to be most important, including unemployment.
He was advised on Dec. 20 by Robert Fox, the party’s national director, that his candidacy was not accepted – the first time in the party’s history that someone has been told they were not qualified to run for leader.
Mr. Graff said he was never provided with the reasons for that decision and was given just 48 hours to appeal even though he did not know why he had been rejected. His appeal was quickly turned down.
After the court action was launched, Mr. Fox wrote to Mr. Graff on April 4 saying there were a number of concerns with his candidacy, including Mr. Graff’s “publicly and frequently stated policy positions that run counter to NDP policy” on issues such as electoral reform and immigration. Even so, the party said it would allow him to reapply to be a candidate and has promised that the process will be more transparent this time around.
“I hope that this victory will help open up NDP leadership races to a wider spectrum of ideas and candidates,” Mr. Graff said in a statement after filing a new application on Monday. “We need to get on with the job of giving NDP supporters a fresh approach for 2019, and a jolt of energy into what has been a lacklustre race where the candidates agree on nearly everything.”
There are currently four official candidates – Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Peter Julian. All are sitting MPs. Pat Stogran, a retired infantry colonel who was also the federal veterans ombudsman, is set to announce his candidacy on Thursday.
Mr. Graff’s lawyers point out that there is nothing in the NDP’s constitution that would disqualify someone from running for the leadership based on views that diverged from written party policy. Rather, the rules state that any “member of the party in good standing, eligible to run for a seat in the House of Commons, who demonstrates a genuine interest in seeking the leadership and serving as the leader of the NDP can be a candidate.”
Mr. Hasan said the case highlights the fact that, while Canadians are given a chance to vote for the person who will represent their riding in the House of Commons, it is party members who decide for the rest of Canada who will be party leader and, ultimately, who has the chance to be prime minister. Therefore, he said, parties have a responsibility to act fairly and transparently.