Ontario Liberal Party not living up to its candidate diversity mandate, nomination hopefuls allege

By Sabrina Nanji September 21, 2020

Multiple would-be POC nomination candidates allege they were discouraged from seeking the Ontario Liberal nod in Toronto Centre. 
The Ontario Liberal Party says it’s taking greater steps to recruit candidates from underrepresented groups ahead of the next scheduled election in June 2022, and riding associations must show they made an effort to search out BIPOC and LGBTQ nomination contestants. 
But on the ground, that doesn’t seem to be the case. 
Of the minimum seven prospective contestants hoping to fly the Grit banner in Toronto Centre, at least three — who are Black and POC — said they either felt discouraged by the riding association’s president, Milton Chan, or thought the process was designed to shoehorn in the party’s preferred candidate David Morris
Not only is Chan the riding president, he also is senior legal counsel for the party and is responsible for enforcing its new equity outreach policy for nomination contests provincewide.  
Queen’s Park Today relied upon 11 sources for this story and agreed to grant the participants anonymity because they fear reprisals. The party also has a gag clause in its nomination rulebook prohibiting hopefuls from speaking out about internal activity unless something illegal occured. 
One would-be contestant described a conversation with Chan that left them feeling dissuaded. 
“All I knew is that I wanted to run,” they told Queen’s Park Today. “I had talked to quite a few people in the party and I had heard his name, people were saying: ‘You know who you should chat with? Milton — he’s very high-ranking.’” 
“He was professional, he wasn’t rude to me. But he was extremely dismissive.” 
They recall Chan saying Toronto Centre would be super competitive for the OLP in 2022, and there were other ways they could contribute to the party besides running, like volunteering behind the scenes. That was a blow to their confidence, and they decided not to make a bid. 
“I felt very let down, I felt very disappointed, I felt like, OK, maybe I shouldn’t do this. Not because he told me I shouldn’t, but because I was thinking, whoa, if this is a high-ranking guy and he’s clearly telling me don’t run, what am I going to do?”
Chan says accusations he discouraged candidates are ‘categorically false’ 
When asked about the conversations, Chan said he only had “one or two logistical communications with the contestants who expressed interest in running.” 
In an emailed statement, Chan vehemently denied discriminating against any potential contestant based on the colour of their skin, and said it would be “impossible” to suggest he discouraged anyone from running “given the limited communications.”
However, documents authenticated by Queen’s Park Today show that Chan had more in-depth correspondence with prospective candidates. 
Chan added that while the timeline for the Toronto Centre race was “rapid,” it was “not unusual,” and it “diligently followed all the procedural steps within the rules outlined by the Ontario Liberal Party.” 
OLP president Brian Johns maintained Morris was the only candidate to submit nomination papers and specified that Leader Steve Del Duca “strongly” endorsed him. The party is “committed to forming the most inclusive team of candidates in Ontario history,” Johns said in a statement.
Chan’s 2016 comments that sparked review by Wynne’s office raise fresh concerns 
Several Liberals voiced renewed concerns about Chan’s past comments, which some perceived as anti-Black, because he currently oversees the party’s equity and harassment policies. 
In 2016, when he was chief of staff to then-Indigenous affairs minister David Zimmer and helping to lead Ontario’s new Anti-Racism Directorate, Chan was investigated by former Premier Kathleen Wynne‘s office for a controversial Facebook post he made about Black Lives Matter opposing police officers marching in Toronto’s Pride parade. Wynne’s office received complaints from several Black Liberals who said Chan’s post stereotyped the Black community as homophobic. 
“It is impossible to have an effective anti-discrimination policy overseen by someone with a history of [alleged] discrimination themselves,” charged one senior Liberal organizer. 
Another senior Black Liberal told Queen’s Park Today that a person facing allegations of racism “shouldn’t be anywhere near nominations.” 
Chan said it was an “emotional” and “heated” topic within the queer community. “As a queer racialized individual, this was a deeply personal and emotional issue, and I acted out imprudently with sarcasm,” he said of the Facebook post. 
“The matter was reviewed by the Premier’s Office at the time and no further action was deemed necessary,” Chan said.