The president of the NDP’s Scarborough Centre riding association, Lace Cameron, has quit in protest over the party’s handling of the local nomination contest, which they say was manipulated to ensure Neethan Shan emerged victorious following a short nomination meeting on December 1.

Cameron and the rest of the riding association executive council also published a letter accusing NDP brass of taking over the nomination process from the grassroots so they could install the party’s candidate of choice — and that party officials had used “tone policing, gaslighting, bullying, and threats to try to silence members” who were trying to push back.

“To be frank, we believe the party has favoured candidate Neethan Shan over (fellow nomination candidate) D. Tyler Robinson,” reads the letter.

“With Neethan being a seasoned NDP politician … we would have hoped the party would have gone above and beyond to ensure that this nomination and all processes around it would be as impartial as possible to give both candidates a fair opportunity — but we strongly feel that this was not the case.”

Shan’s spouse is Thadsha Navaneethan, who has worked for the Office of the Opposition Leader (the NDP says she does not currently work there) and is an executive representative of the federal NDP’s women’s council. Shan, a former Toronto city councillor, was also the NDP candidate in Scarborough—Rouge River during that riding’s 2016 byelection.

NDP provincial director Lucy Watson maintained the nomination process was conducted entirely above board.

“Nominations in our party are entirely democratic in all ridings, and members of Scarborough Centre followed the same process to select their candidate,” said Watson.

The Scarborough Centre riding association had been expecting to hold a nomination meeting last spring, but the party would not give the go-ahead, according to the association’s executive. They say delays continued even after one of the candidates seeking the nomination, Zamir Nadeem, stepped down in September and Shan announced his candidacy.

By October, association members began raising a stink about the lack of a nomination meeting on their personal Twitter accounts. In their letter, they claimed Watson “scolded” them for “appearing biased,” and that NDP MPP Doly Begum called Cameron personally late one evening to ask them to take their Twitter post down.

“After the way the party manhandled and manipulated this nomination process to ensure their insider candidate won the nomination, I don’t have the emotional strength to keep fighting for progress inside a party that seems to delight in mediocrity,” Cameron, who resigned roughly an hour after the meeting, told Queen’s Park Today.

In response to questions about these claims, the party said association members “were asked by other members to stop using their position of authority to favour one candidate over another.”

“We reminded all involved that they should act with mutual respect, and that their tone towards fellow members and contestants was not appropriate,” it said.

Former Toronto city councillor Neethan Shan emerged victorious as the NDP candidate for Scarborough Centre following a short nomination meeting on December 1. (Photo: Facebook/Neethan Shan)

Riding association wants an investigation

For community organizer and Robinson supporter Beyhan Farhadi, the purpose behind the nomination meeting delay seems clear.

They were waiting on [Shan] to put his name forward,” she told Queen’s Park Today. “And, once that happened, they were not applying the rules set for the nomination process.”

The riding association also expressed concerns about the validity of signatures Shan received to qualify as a nomination candidate, noting Robinson had been denied an opportunity to scrutinize the entire list.

According to Farhadi, their attempt to verify the signatures raised alarm bells.

“When they went to call people on that list, all of whom were supposed to be eligible members, there were 18 that were flagged as saying ‘I don’t know how I got on this list, I don’t vote NDP,’” she recalled.

“This was raised during the process in the NDP where you have five days to raise this issue. It was brought to the attention of central [party management] and not considered … they essentially looked the other way.”

The riding association is calling on the party for an investigation, but Watson said that the allegations are without merit.

“We are completely certain that all rules were followed and all party procedures fully respected throughout the process,” said Watson. “The unsuccessful candidate (Robinson) made his allegations some time ago, and we were able to verify at that time beyond a doubt that nothing out of the ordinary or outside the rules happened.”

Allegations reminiscent of 2013 nomination fiasco

The riding association alleged the short meeting, run by Watson, only served to confirm the vote, which Farhadi said was held prior to the meeting and before candidates were given a chance to make their pitches to party members.

“In a true showing of democracy, the Ontario NDP took over our nomination meeting, announced the candidate, let him speak for five minutes, and kicked us all out,” the riding association executive tweeted. “The meeting was 16 minutes, they didn’t even fundraise. We are kinda stunned over here.”

The allegations in Scarborough Centre feel all too familiar to Viresh Raghubeer, who was the NDP riding association president of Scarborough—Guildwood when a similar controversy erupted there in 2013, as the party worked to have former city councillor and then-co-chair of the NDP recruitment team Adam Giambrone become its candidate.

“We did a thorough investigation from the riding association [back then] and found some of the people that claimed to live at certain addresses did not, they were not members of the riding. Our mistake is that we did not call the police,” Raghubeer told Queen’s Park Today. 

“Now, 10 years later, they’re doing it all again. It’s all the same players … I can’t believe they’re doing the same thing again.”

A number of wannabe Liberal candidates have also complained about unfairness in that party’s nomination races. A thwarted Progress Conservative candidate recently took the PC Party to court for acclaiming a preferred candidate over her.