OTTAWA – Conservatives in Helena Guergis’ riding are accusing their own party brass of heavyhanded tactics in trying to parachute a star candidate in to replace the former cabinet minister.
The would-be candidate is well-known Conservative activist Kellie Leitch, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and director of the Health Sector MBA program at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.
In a lengthy letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, obtained by The Canadian Press, the Conservative electoral district association (EDA) in Simcoe-Grey complains of repeated interference, obstruction and gag orders by Conservative headquarters.
“We don’t want to lose this seat in the next election. But head office personnel have deliberately interfered with, obstructed and circumvented our autonomy as an association, and our right to freely express our opinions,” the executive members write.
The association has been floating in “no man’s land” since Harper removed Guergis from caucus last month citing unspecified allegations brought to the party’s attention by a private investigator.
The association complains about one Conservative official in particular, Colin McSweeney, who they say has been trying to sow divisions within their ranks.
“The concerns we express go to the heart of grassroots democracy, fairness, respect for the relevance and autonomy of EDA’s that operate within the Conservative Party’s constitution and their EDA constitution,” the members write.
The letter describes how McSweeney directed the association to restrict access to its annual general meeting on April 24 to members only.
But once the meeting got going, McSweeney allowed Leitch to enter the meeting where she “exchanged telephone numbers and other contact information.” They allege she was not a member of their association.
Later, one of the executive members heard that Leitch had applied for hospital privileges in Collingwood, Ont., a city in the riding.
Leitch, who Tories say is close to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and former Harper chief of staff Ian Brodie, did not respond to messages sent Monday afternoon. She was an Ontario campaign co-chair for the party during the 2006 election.
McSweeney did not respond to an email message from The Canadian Press, nor did party spokesman Fred Delorey. McSweeney is an eastern Ontario organizer for the party, and is a well-liked Conservative around Parliament Hill who’s said to be close to the prime minister.
“Dr. Leitch could be an outstanding potential candidate but her debut in our EDA is tainted,” the members write. “She is either incredibly naive, incredibly presumptuous or has been mislead by inept and opportunistic proponents of her presumed candidacy that reach very high up in the Conservative Party hierarchy.”
If Harper has decided he doesn’t want Guergis to run for the party in the next election, the association’s executive wants to know why it and Guergis have not been told.
“Does the Conservative Party Constitution apply to all Conservatives or is “head office” some how exempt as appears apparent from our experience?” the members write.
Some Tories in the riding, meanwhile, have complained that the executive is controlled by Guergis supporters.
The Simcoe-Grey members say McSweeney slapped a gag order on all members of the association, advising them not to speak to any members of the media. After association spokesman Paul Shaw did an interview with The Canadian Press two weeks ago, McSweeney directed the association’s president to send a letter to Shaw that the executive members considered “insulting, insensitive and demeaning.”
Guergis has described allegations against her as baseless, and has said she is co-operating with the RCMP to help clear her name.
Her husband, former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, is facing his own set of allegations of illegal lobbying after communicating with at least six ministerial offices about business projects he was working on.
The Liberals are tabling a motion in the Commons Tuesday to plug a loophole in the Lobbyist Act that does not require lobbyists to declare when they communicate with parliamentary secretaries. Jaffer had met and emailed Brian Jean, parliamentary secretary to Infrastructure Minister John Baird.
The Commons government operations committee has put out a request for Jean to testify at the committee. They have also called Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, Ontario businessman Jim Wright and private investigator Derrick Snowdy.
Who is likely to appear at Wednesday’s committee meeting has yet to be determined.