Robert Benzie - June 05, 2017
A Progressive Conservative vice-president has resigned in protest from the party executive after officials glossed over a questionable nomination amid allegations of ballot-stuffing, the Star has learned.
Robert Elliott quit as the Tories’ third vice-president and policy chair after a raucous weekend meeting of PC brass in Toronto, where leader Patrick Brown was given the power to rubber-stamp contentious candidates.
“It did happen, but with respect to it I have no further comment,” Elliott, a consultant with Temple Scott Associates, said Monday from Ottawa.
“I understand you have a job to do and I appreciate that — I know your work — but I don’t have any further comment,” he said politely.
Conservative insiders said Elliott — a party vice-president for the past nine years and the chief returning officer for the 2015 PC leadership contest won by Brown — was troubled by alleged shenanigans in Ottawa West-Nepean.
In the May 6 nomination race there, Karma Macgregor won by 15 votes over runner-up Jeremy Roberts, even though there were 28 more ballots in the boxes than had registered.
Roberts, whose formal appeal of the result was rejected by the party executive Saturday, said the contest “contained highly suspect irregularities.”
“There were clear indications of fraud undertaken,” he said in a statement, noting “the events that transpired here send a very dangerous and potentially damaging message about our cause.”
Macgregor, a veteran Tory activist and the mother of Brown’s deputy chief of staff, could not be reached for comment.
Despite the shambolic nomination in Ottawa — and similar problems in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas and Newmarket-Aurora — the party executive opted against holding new contests.
“As you know, there have been concerns raised about due process in a handful of nomination contests. They’ve elevated quickly,” PC Party president Rick Dykstra said in an internal email obtained by the Star.
“Unfortunately, there is no procedural answer that will satisfy everyone. Replacing one appellant with another is not productive. There could be endless appeals,” he wrote.
“Rather than constantly looking in the rear-view mirror, we simply need to move forward . . .”
Dykstra pointed out that the party is implementing “new processes . . . designed to make nominations and appeals more transparent and fair and to ensure full and fair compliance with established procedures.”
These measures include retaining private-sector auditors PwC to oversee nominations and having a neutral observer from the Tory executive in attendance.
But in a controversial move, the party announced Brown was certifying all 64 nominated Tory candidates — including Macgregor — regardless of the allegations of irregularities.
“Any further process or reconsideration in these 64 ridings is accordingly rendered moot, as these 64 individuals will be our candidates, regardless of any meeting or reconsideration,” wrote Dykstra.
In the same internal party email, Brown strongly endorsed his slate.
“They . . . are all excellent representatives of our party and each one of them will make a fantastic MPP. Even those who have questions about the way certain meetings were run agree that all 64 are excellent candidates. That is not in dispute,” the leader said.
Sources, speaking on background to discuss the high-level deliberations, said that was the last straw for Elliott, who tendered his resignation.
While others on the executive shared his concerns, insiders said they were urged to rally behind Brown.
Polls suggest he could topple Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals in the June 7, 2018, provincial election and the Tories, fresh from winning the Sault Ste. Marie byelection Thursday, do not want to hurt their chances.
Dykstra, for his part, declined to comment on Elliott’s departure other than saying “he has decided to move on from the executive team but he intends to continue on as a hardworking volunteer for our party.”