Kris Austin's challenge is also his opportunity
UPDATE: This morning the candidate removed the offensive post from his Facebook page, and replaced it with an apology for what he called his "lack of judgment".
Often the trouble with not being a mainstream political party is that it is hard to attract the very best candidates. It can be hard for mainstream parties as well, as you may have noticed, but it is tougher when you aren’t a Liberal or Conservative. Don’t misinterpret me, you can land some stellar ones if they are committed to your party and have the smarts and personality to present your case well. But often you can't find enough of them, so sometimes the leaders of less popular parties are faced with candidates who may be committed, but whose judgment is, how do you say, questionable.
Consider the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick. As leader, Kris Austin appears to be a tireless worker and he is effective. He handles himself extremely well on the CBC political panels, and he has been working hard to show that his party is about more than bilingualism, trying hard to overcome the knock that his is an anti-French party.
He has worked hard and has a better than average shot of winning in his own riding, having come extremely close last time, and given he has not stopped campaigning.
But as the leader of an emerging party, he has to, of course, worry about more than his own seat. And that, aside from the obvious work of recruiting candidates, has other challenges. For example how to handle it if one of those candidates crosses a line.
Enter Stewart Manuel of Glassville, the party’s candidate for the riding of Carleton. On his Facebook page, he has a graphic comparing Liberals to Nazis. Really? Heaven knows there are lots of reasons to be critical of the Liberals, both provincially and federally, but Nazis they are not. And neither are any of their policies Nazi-like.
So the question to Mr. Manuel is why he felt compelled to grab this image from one of those right wing fringe groups, especially at a time when Nazis are feeling emboldened in the United States, and drop this image onto his Facebook page? Is it because he really feels the Liberals are like Nazis? Is it because he sees it as a very funny joke, something his friends would like? Or does he not have one sweet clue who Nazis are?
I don’t really care but I would think Kris Austin does. Here’s a guy who has spend years trying to convince people to take him seriously, that he is the real deal, and here’s his own candidate sabotaging that effort.
So the test for Austin as party leader is what he’s going to do about it. It is as much an opportunity as a challenge. It is a chance for him to show the voters of the province who he is, and what he stands for. Will he dismiss Manuel as a candidate? Have him make a public apology? Or will he simply look the other way and pretend that the man carrying the PANB banner in Carleton has a Facebook page suggesting Liberals are no better than Nazis?
The problem is that if he doesn’t act, it implies he is OK with it.