Tory offshoot says 'grassroots-driven' approach to policy is 'suspicious'

Christopher Reynolds QP Briefing - September 15, 2017


A fledgling group within the Progressive Conservative party is raising flags about its November policy conference, claiming issues of "integrity" linger in the wake of nomination-race controversies.

The Take Back Our PC Party, an online movement launched by disgruntled Tories last summer, sent out an email Thursday that expressed concern over an online policy poll — open to all party members — and the conference where the results of that vote will be unveiled.

"We have no idea what precautions are being taken to ensure the integrity of this online process," the email states. "Based on media stories of 'vote-rigging' and 'ballot-box stuffing' at nomination meetings this year, one has reason to be suspicious."

Jim Karahalios (pictured above), one of the organizers behind the group, said he worries about the lack of information around vote-counting and how policy is formed under a revised policy-selection process by the PCs.

"We can't really trust who's making up the policies that are going to be presented. How are amendments — if amendments are going to be allowed — how are they going to be done, and who's counting the votes?" Karahalios asked.

His worry stems from the PCs' new online poll, where every member of the party will be able to vote on all proposed policies, which will have emerged from a distilling process by 18 advisory committees following broad consultation with members.

Progressive Conservatives will be able to "view which of these policies become part of our party's platform at our Policy Conference in late November 2017," party president Rick Dykstra wrote in an email on April 24.

It's how those policies morph from member proposals to platform planks that concerns Karahalios.

A slew of controversies over allegations of ballot-box stuffing and other supposed irregularities have shaken nomination races in more than a dozen ridings, with internal appeals, at least two lawsuits, four board resignations and a police probe emerging from the turbulent contests.

The Ontario PC Party has hired an independent firm to run the policy process "from start to finish," Dykstra said in an interview with QP Briefing on Friday. That company has not yet been announced, he said. He confirmed it's not PwC, which was commissioned to oversee all Tory candidate contests after multiple nomination brouhahas.

"What'll happen there is we'll basically introduce the results of all of the [online] voting on the resolutions that went to the membership," Dykstra said. The resulting policy platform, unveiled at the conference, will be "purely based on the vote."

He did not speculate on what PC Leader Patrick Brown would do if an anti-carbon-tax proposal or pro-life policy emerged, but added that Brown and party leadership "reserve the right to adopt further policies" after the conference.

The policy conference is scheduled for Nov. 25. in Mississauga.

Brown said the conference will cap off a more open, democratic policy process than in years past, with more participants than any policy conference in Ontario history.

"The fact that that we've now extended a vote to every member I think is a great thing. It's more democratic, it's more grassroots-driven," he told QP Briefing in an interview Thursday.

In April, the party executive shifted to a one-member-one-vote approach on its policy recommendations rather than a delegated process where each riding is allotted the same number of representatives.

The last time the PCs held a convention — in March 2016 — the party had only 12,000 members, Brown said. Now, its ranks have swelled to more than 126,000, Dykstra said, despite recent alienation among some of the Tories' most socially conservative wings.

Tory faithful received an alert this week that they had until Thursday evening to register or renew their membership in order to get in on the poll.

On top of immediate policy concerns, the Take Back Our Party movement aims to trigger a special general meeting of the party, which requires the support of one-third of the riding associations in the province. At that general meeting, delegates could amend the party's constitution, binding Brown — and any leader — to the results, Karahalios said.

The group, which he claims has thousands of email subscribers, hopes to change the constitution in three ways: to state that the party is opposed to a carbon tax, to prohibit the leadership from overriding the results of nomination contests and to overturn the results of any nominations that are not open, public and democratic so new votes can take place.

With files from Jessica Smith Cross

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