Liberals accused of nepotism in Richmond Hill nomination contest

By Sabrina Nanji December 2, 2020

Ontario Liberal Party brass are being accused of nepotism and failing to follow diverse candidate outreach efforts in the Richmond Hill nomination contest.

The race to crown the Grits’ next election candidate in the riding features nomination contestant Roozbeh Farhadi, who is married to Najva Amin, the chief of staff to Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca.

Farhadi was president of the local riding association up until October 5, when he stepped down in order to run for the nomination. He was greenlit by the party’s vetting committee on October 21.

But according to excerpts from Farhadi’s nomination application package that was submitted to the party — obtained by Queen’s Park Today — Farhadi threw his hat in the ring well before he stepped down, handing in his papers by August 1.

According to multiple Liberal sources who spoke with Queen’s Park Today, that would put Farhadi in a conflict of interest and give him an unfair edge over the potential competition, because he had “unfettered access” to key information such as the membership list for months before resigning.

The timing also meant that efforts to seek out diverse candidates to run in Richmond Hill may have been dormant over the summer months since the riding association president is supposed to lead the search. OLP has said it’s stepping up its search for women, BIPOC, LGBTQ and under-30 candidates ahead of the next scheduled election in June 2022, and riding associations must show those efforts.

“It’s clear that Farhadi received a benefit from his position of riding president,” charged one Liberal insider. “Perversely, would-be candidates would have been encouraged to contact Farhadi if they were thinking of running, he would have received notifications of every single sign-up, and he would have had unfettered access to the executive and membership.”

“The process in this riding has been rigged and reeks of nepotism,” they said with a nod to Amin’s top job in Del Duca’s office.

Another Liberal organizer in the riding claimed Farhadi had been recruiting members to his camp back in July. “It seems like they had a machine ready to go and were just waiting to make it public,” they said.

Riding association president’s nomination papers were signed by ex-MPP in the summer
Farhadi said he didn’t step down for months because he was waiting on the former Liberal MPP for the riding, Reza Moridi, to say whether he would run again in 2022. Moridi publicly announced he wouldn’t run in early October, and so Farhadi said that’s when he “made the official decision to put forward my name for nomination in the riding” and resigned.

However, Farhadi’s nomination papers show Moridi was the first person to sign them back in the summer, thereby formally endorsing Farhadi’s bid. Moridi’s wife Pari was the second signatory and Amin was the ninth endorser.

“I requested papers because I wanted to have a better sense of the process and wanted to have enough time to complete the application,” Farhadi said in an email.

He acknowledged he was “preparing for a potential campaign over the summer” and was vetted by the party in mid-September — weeks before he stepped down and roughly a month before getting the green light — but Farhadi said he knew he wouldn’t be approved as a candidate until the resignation was final.

Moridi told Queen’s Park Today he does not recall signing Farhadi’s papers and had been mulling over whether he himself would run for months.

Moridi said Farhadi — who works in the banking industry — should have known to step down as soon as he formally entered the nomination arena and sent in his papers.

“He wouldn’t have acted before he stepped down as riding president. He knew all these rules,” Moridi said by phone. “Of course, people have their own thinking … if you’re going to resign from the position, maybe it’s in your mind, but you don’t act. I think ‘act’ is important.”

Ontario Liberal Party president Brian Johns confirmed the greenlight process isn’t supposed to plow ahead for someone while they’re still serving as riding president, “regardless of whether they have submitted papers.”

“The rules have been followed,” Johns said in an email statement. “Any concerns suggesting otherwise are without merit.”

Johns also seemed to couch the party’s line on diverse candidate outreach. Whereas OLP’s nomination rules require “a demonstrable outreach effort” to prospective contestants from typically underrepresented groups, Johns now says the party “encourages” riding associations to hunt for those candidates.

It isn’t the first time OLP has caught flak for failing to seek out diverse candidates. The party’s chief counsel and Del Duca’s campaign co-chair Milton Chan has come up against allegations that he discouraged would-be BIPOC candidates from running in Toronto Centre.

Back in Richmond Hill, Kimia Ghorban — who took up the mantle from Farhadi as riding president and also sits on the party exec — said she “intends to undertake our candidate search efforts in a manner that is consistent with OLP’s desire to nominate diverse candidates.”

There’s no date for the Richmond Hill nomination contest yet; Farhadi is the only official contender thus far.