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Globe editorial: Sunny ways, with a chance of cloudy Liberal nominations

A few years ago, as a new Liberal Party worked to distinguish itself from the old, leader Justin Trudeau promised that the selection of candidates would be left in the hands of local party members. There would no more parachuting in of star candidates.

In the old Liberal Party, the leader would sometimes clear the decks for a big name, handing them a safe seat, and short-circuiting the local nomination process. A lot of people thought that smelled a tad undemocratic, and Mr. Trudeau said he agreed.

And for the most part, the new Liberal Party has left local nominations in the hands of local members. In the run-up to the 2015 election, there were instances of candidates believed to be favourites of the future prime minister being allowed to go down to defeat at the local nomination meetings – exactly as Mr. Trudeau promised would happen.

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But both before 2015 and since, there have been cases that look very different. Instead of straight parachute jobs, announced openly and conducted in daylight, they look like covert ops, accompanied by denials that anything out of the ordinary is going on.

Take the case of the riding of Saint-Laurent, in Montreal, recently vacated by Stéphane Dion. A byelection is to be held on April 3.

It's a safe Liberal seat, so whoever wins the nomination will be the MP. The leading contender was believed to be Alan DeSousa, who for the past 15 years has been the borough mayor of Saint-Laurent. However, the party abruptly rejected his candidacy late last month, without explanation. So much for local choice.

The move appears to have cleared the decks for Yolande James, a former minister in the provincial government. The Liberals have made no secret of wanting more women MPs.

There was nothing inherently wrong with the old practice of a party sometimes anointing a preferred candidate – it's how Mr. Dion first arrived on the political scene. But in the old days, when leaders like Jean Chrétien did it, they did it openly. They put their name behind it. They had to wear it.

The current practice, where Mr. Trudeau's party insists it is not doing what it appears to be doing, looks hypocritical. It looks like going back on a promise. It sure doesn't feel very sunny.

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