How Open is Open?

As the 2015 election date (October 19, in case you were wondering) creeps closer, the major federal political parties are in full nomination mode, aiming to ensure that all ridings across Canada have viable, electable candidates ready to wave the party flag. This year the nomination process is different. For the first time, all three major parties are conducting open nominations, which mean that the candidate for a party in a given riding must be elected first by the riding association. While the NDP have conducted open nominations for years, the Liberals and Conservatives had policies in place that allowed incumbents – that is, Members of Parliament (MPs) elected in the previous election – to run in their respective ridings without being challenged by other candidates and subject to a vote by the riding association. (As a small aside, the Conservatives still have a limited list of protected incumbents for this election, which include the Prime Minister and those candidates who have run in by-elections since 2011.)

Why this year?

The shift towards open nominations this year is due, at least in part, to the results of the 2012 electoral boundaries commission. Every 10 years the number, size, and shape of the ridings across Canada is re-evaluated and re-adjusted to accommodate for changing populations. The 2012 commission created 30 new ridings, and redrew the borders of numerous ridings across the country. The election in 2015 is the first opportunity for the new ridings to be put into place. As a result, many of the current MPs represent ridings that have changed, or no longer exist. Rather than allowing incumbents to squabble over which ridings they wish to represent, both the Liberals and the Conservatives decided to implement the open nomination process.

With the unprecedented federal open nomination process well underway, it is interesting to take a step back and evaluate the success of the endeavour. Just how open is open?

How many names have been put forward?chart5

As of March 2nd, 1,107 individuals put their names forward as nomination contestants, 506 from the Liberals, 325 from the Conservatives and 249 from the NDP.

The Liberals have almost as many nomination candidates seeking the nod as the Conservatives and NDP combined. This could be due in part to the fact that the Liberals have significantly fewer incumbent candidates (MPs), however it is more likely that the Liberals have achieved these high numbers because many of the ridings have multiple candidates contesting the nomination.

To date the governing Conservatives only have 22% of their nominations contested – meaning there is more than one candidate on the ballot. Even though the incumbent MPs are open to nomination challenges for the first time in almost a decade, only four of the 131 returning Tory incumbents were opposed, with three surviving (David Tilson, Jim Hillyer and John Duncan) and one defeated (Rob Anders)

The NDP doing a little bit better in terms of candidate interest. 28% of their nominations are contested, including at least four Quebec MPs chart2who are facing challenges, out of a returning caucus of 74.

Between the government and the Official Opposition, roughly three of every four candidates to date have been acclaimed, as opposed to contested. It is difficult to say at this early stage if it means that the NDP and Conservative bases are simply less engaged on the ground, or if it reflects a broader confidence in the incumbents.

On the other side of the coin are the Liberals, who currently have 50% of their nominations contested by two or more candidates. Even though only two out of the 31 Liberal MPs who are running again were challenged (Stephane Dion and Eve Adams), the broader interest by Liberal nomination candidates and their riding associations is significant.

One need look no further than the nomination race that took place in Brampton North, ON where a staggering 3,700 Liberal members cast a ballot. Although the Liberals have received the most negative press about their nomination races, it may be due in large part to the fact that they are having more of them contested than the other two major parties combined.  And in the end, the positive momentum they receive in each riding with definitely outweigh a couple of days of bad press clippings.


Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON 8 NDP 3rd (-5%)
Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON 7 CON 1st (+34%)
NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC 6 NDP 1st (+0.5%)
Liberal Ahuntsic-Cartierville, QC 6 LIB 1st (+1.2%)
Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC 6 NDP 2nd (-27%)
Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK 6 CON 1st (+54%)
Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON 6 CON 3rd (-17%)
Liberal King—Vaughan, ON 6 CON 2nd (-30%)
Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB 6 CON 1st (+56%)
Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON 6 CON 2nd (-12%)
Liberal York South—Weston, ON 6 NDP 2nd (-7%)
Conservative Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC 6 CON 1st (+22%)