November 30, 2022

Meet the Auditors: Campaign Agents Explain How Political Candidates Are Selected

Political parties spend months interviewing potential candidates and scrutinizing their past, but their efforts do not always bear fruit.

Less than a week after the start of the federal election campaign, candidates from the Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green parties have already resigned or have been disqualified by their parties.

Vets say the selection process is not broken, but it is far from foolproof.

Strategies for controlling political parties vary, but many rely on lengthy nomination forms, interviews, and research teams.

The selection process can take months, according to former United Conservative Party executive director Janice Harrington, who oversaw the selection of candidates in the recent provincial election in Alberta.

Vets go far beyond background checks and Google. They review financial data and look for potential conflicts of interest. Some ask for social media passwords so they can go through years of posts and comments.

“It’s a lot more complicated than you might think,” Harrington said.

One page of the UCP Candidate Screening Questionnaire includes questions about sexting and dating. (Scott Dippel / CBC)

Who gets the green light?

Parties must weigh the risks and rewards if they uncover compromising elements associated with a successful candidate, said Jack Siegel, a Toronto lawyer who chaired the Liberal Party’s selection committee in the 2015 federal election. that Siegel is not leading the party committee this year, he is still involved in the liberal campaign.

Vetters use their political judgment to decide whether or not to exclude a potential candidate. In some parties, like the UCP, the party leader has the last word. Other parties, like the Alberta Party, ask a board of directors to vote on complicated cases.

Exclusion of a candidate is relatively rare, however, the vetters told CBC News.

“I would be surprised if we excluded more than two or three percent of the candidates in the 2015 election,” Siegel said.

Most often, parties use their research to anticipate and prepare responses to potential problems. This not only protects the party, said Conrad Guay, chairman of the Alberta Party board, but also the candidate.

“You are not going to catch it all”

Some political parties hire companies to research candidate history on social media, but this task often falls on campaign agents and volunteers, who may intercept some, but not all, of the problematic messages.

Last year, Alberta Party by-election candidate Sid Fayad apologized after a Facebook comment in which he used the N word resurfaced.

Vetters missed the five-year commentary during the selection process.

“It wasn’t even something we could have found, really,” Guay said.

“No one is perfect and you’re not going to catch it all.”

Risks and Rewards

Despite the high stakes and the considerable time they spend, auditors say their work is important and helps determine the quality of their party’s candidates.

Although Calgary political scientist Lori Williams argued there were problems with the UCP’s selection process in the Alberta election, Harrington said she was happy with the quality of the candidates who came forward.

Finding qualified candidates is the rewarding part of screening, she said.

For Siegel, the big reward is winning.

“If you’re on this team, and especially in my case, in 2015 when this team won a majority government, it’s a really rewarding feeling,” he said.