Home Perspectives Opinions Lieblein: Hassan Guillet affair shows the need for transparency in vetting

Lieblein: Hassan Guillet affair shows the need for transparency in vetting

Imam Hassan Guillet

Ex-Liberal candidate Hassan Guillet, who was recently dropped as that party’s representative in the riding of Saint-Léonard–Saint-Michel, says that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals knew full well of his Facebook posts praising Hamas activists, the radio interviews where he repeated the dual-loyalty accusation against U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his labelling of Israel as an apartheid state. I believe him.

I believe him because I’ve seen the “vetting” process for candidates up close, during the many nomination campaigns I’ve worked on for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the Conservative Party of Canada. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I can’t count the number of times a candidate willingly disclosed – likely on some hastily slapped together “candidate questionnaire” – everything they’ve said or done that could potentially be problematic. These candidates were only trying to ensure they didn’t hurt their party’s chances of winning, only for the party to turn around and use those comments as leverage over them, or as a reason for terminating their candidacy.

All political parties place a premium on loyalty, and an even higher premium on protecting their reputations.

All political parties place a premium on loyalty, and an even higher premium on protecting their reputations. Would you, as a candidate, be inclined to complain about policy or being treated poorly by party staff, if you knew they could release your worst social media mistakes for any reason? Probably not – and the party knows that.

Make no mistake: ousting Guillet as a candidate – and taking their sweet time to do so – was a calculated decision by the Liberals. The party cited its “thorough internal review process” as the trigger for Guillet’s dismissal, the intended message being that this wasn’t a decision to be taken lightly – just in case anyone suspects that the party quickly folded under pressure.

The Liberals are also counting on the fact that most concerned Jewish voters will be satisfied that Guillet was removed, instead of asking questions about the vetting process that permitted him to run and be nominated in the first place. This whole episode betrays a lack of trust between party and candidate, and also between parties and voters.

It didn’t, and doesn’t, have to be this way.

Liberal lawn sign
Liberal lawn sign

For his part, Guillet appears to have done some admittedly overdue work to mend fences with the Jewish community since his harmful Facebook posts by engaging in dialogue with religious leaders and appearing at synagogues. Why didn’t the Liberals do more to promote Guillet’s change of heart before this controversy exploded? Guillet’s hateful views, as well as what he has seemingly done to address them since, likely didn’t register with enough people for the Liberals to consider it an issue at the time. But in the run-up to an election, when people start paying attention? Obviously that’s a different story.

Most troubling, of course, is the lack of accountability at the party level. Who, for example, made the call for Guillet to be removed? Nobody seems to know. If political parties were to publicly release the reasons for their decisions to pull a candidate, it would do much to limit the wild speculation that inevitably follows. Thus far, Guillet has mostly relied on social media to get his side of the story out. This creates the potential for the spread of disinformation about “Jewish influence” that everyone – presumably even Guillet himself – will have to work that much harder to counter.

It all boils down to the fact that there are too many grey areas and potential weaknesses in the nomination process for any such contest to be fair and transparent, and thus appropriately deal with potential candidates who have said hateful things before it becomes national news. Unless Canadians want “cancel culture” to become a feature of their political system, parties, voters and candidates are going to have to be a lot more open and forthright with one another.

Josh Lieblein is a political activist with a long history in the federal and provincial Conservative parties.