Registration errors frustrate voters, candidate in Ottawa-Vanier provincial Liberal nomination

Lucille Collard had hoped to be on that stage: in the spotlight, behind the podium, flanked by four Liberal Party of Ontario banners.

She had hoped to be the one thanking the people of Ottawa-Vanier for their trust and support.

Collard had run a good campaign, knocked on hundreds of doors, recruited more than 100 new members to the party.

She had done her part for the Liberal family.

But Collard would leave her party’s Oct. 15 nomination meeting feeling disappointed, abandoned, even betrayed.

“It leaves a sour taste in my mouth,” she said. “We’re all members of the Liberal family, but I don’t feel that I was treated like a family member. When you see somebody who’s doing something wrong in your family, you don’t let them sink.”

Around 10 o’clock that Saturday morning, Ottawa-Vanier Liberals began filing through the doors of De La Salle high school in Ottawa’s Lowertown. Inevitably, they were greeted by Nathalie Des Rosiers.

Wearing a scarlet red dress, a houndstooth-patterned blazer, and a white pearl necklace, the star candidate was in her element.

“It’s Saturday morning and you’re out participating in the democratic process,” she said to party members as they arrived. “How extraordinary!”

Last June, Madeleine Meilleur, the venerated matriarch of the staunchly Liberal riding, announced she was stepping down after 13 years at Queen’s Park. Ottawa-Vanier has been in Liberal hands since 1971, and the party is determined to keep it that way.

Enter Des Rosiers: enlisted by the Liberals to fill Meilleur’s shoes, she certainly has an impressive resumé. Now the dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa, Des Rosiers previously served as general counsel to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. She has a Master of Laws degree from Harvard, and received both the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario.

And if those credentials weren’t enough, she had some help on Saturday morning, too. Only ever a few steps away was Allan Rock, a minister in Jean Chrétien’s cabinet and former president of the University of Ottawa. “I’ve known her for 25 years,” he said of Des Rosiers. “She’s a great candidate, and she’ll do a terrific job at Queen’s Park.”

The way Des Rosiers and Rock hovered near the entrance, you would think they were hosting their own party, welcoming hundreds of their closest friends. They shook hands, embraced, and exchanged kisses on each cheek.

And Des Rosiers certainly came prepared. At the back of the entrance hall, folding tables had been setup for each of the three candidates. Des Rosiers had covered hers with a Liberal red tablecloth with white polka dots. Atop sat two neat rows of water bottles, each branded with a Nathalie Des Rosiers campaign sticker, along with pamphlets and snack-sized candy bars.

Only a few feet away, Collard was decidedly more subdued — taciturn, even — surrounded by a small group of supporters. She had re-purposed old campaign signs from her last run as a school board trustee. The “RE-” in “RE-ELECT” had been covered with a thick strip of red tape.

Collard had settled in Ottawa 20 years ago. Whereas Des Rosiers was the party’s pick, she was the underdog. Well respected for her work at the school board, she had fought hard to win supporters and get them registered.

A third candidate, Persévérance Mayer, co-founder of the Ligue des Africains du Canada, had also entered the race. Her table stood bare just a few feet away from Collard’s.

The hall was abuzz as voting got underway. Hundreds lined up to cast their ballot, with the queue stretching out from the cafeteria, across the entrance hall, and through a set of doors leading toward the gymnasium.

Shortly after voting began, Eric Stephenson stormed out of the school. He was one of close to 105 Collard supporters who were not allowed to cast their ballot due to an administrative error. “I’m very upset. This is awful,” he said, incensed. “I know who I want to vote for and who I’m supporting, and they’re not allowing me to do that.”

It turns out Collard deposited the membership fees she had collected into a Liberal party riding office account in Ottawa, instead of sending the fees along with the membership forms to the party’s office in Toronto as required.

“They told me, ‘Yes, we received a batch of 16 forms today.” Nobody said, ‘Oh, but the money is missing by the way.’ Nobody said anything,” said Collard. “I was advised after the whole thing was closed off and there was no opportunity to fix anything.”

“It’s very disappointing. It’s very sad when people can’t actually vote because of a technical requirement,” said Lisa Stilborn, the party’s Eastern Region vice-president. “It’s very regrettable. It’s just — there are rules,” she said, insisting those rules had been made clear to all three candidates.

Some of Collard’s supporters openly suggested the result had been orchestrated. Collard certainly would not go that far — not today, anyway. No, she would have to be magnanimous in her defeat.

“I’m very happy for Nathalie Des Rosiers, who worked very, very hard,” Collard said to reporters in French after the results were announced. “I wish her good luck. I will be there to support her, because I believe in the Liberal Party.”

Some of the party’s newest members may not feel the same way.

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