They could be swept into power next June, but first the Ontario PC Party will have to deal with internal battles over its nomination process for candidates.
There are now five ridings where allegations of impropriety took place, including Milton.
Parm Gill, who represented Brampton-Springdale as a Conservative MP from 2011 to 2015, secured the nomination last weekend, beating popular Halton Region councillor Mike Cluett.
Gill is no stranger to controversy. He was the subject of an ethics review in 2015 that found he had violated the Conflict of Interest Act; he was investigated by Canada’s elections commissioner after donations intended for Liberals ended up in his coffers; and in a 2015 YouTube video he said he entered politics because the idea of same-sex marriage “pushed me over the edge.”
Party leader Patrick Brown now says the candidate fully supports the PC position of “equality and inclusion of gay rights.”
But Gill is adding another line of controversy to his CV. There are allegations his supporters bullied members, attempted to block Cluett supporters from casting ballots, and that those registering members to vote and working the ballot boxes were wearing “Gill” buttons and stickers.
“Some were wearing stickers and that definitely wouldn’t be allowed in a municipal, federal or provincial election,” Milton councillor Robert Duvall said of the nomination meeting. “I don’t think there are any rules for that at nominations and maybe they should start looking at that because at a grassroots level, that’s who you want to vote.”
Elections Ontario does not oversee party nomination contests and while pins, stickers and posters of support for one candidate or another are barred form polling locations in general elections, it’s up to the parties to police that at nomination contests. The PC rules governing candidate nominations don’t specifically address these signs of support.
In a statement to CityNews, Ontario PC president Rick Dykstra said, “the Milton nomination was carried out fairly, and was monitored and certified by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).”
He added that the party executive “had a neutral observer at the nomination to monitor the process and ensure its transparency and compliance with established procedures.”
Dykstra denied allegations that some members faced difficulty in voting, writing “all recognized local party members were able to vote without issue.”
Duvall said some members felt intimated by the process, with Gill supporters camped out near the entrance to the meeting.
“The elections were being held on the second floor,” Duvall explained. “The only way to get there was to go up a stairwell where there was tables set up and people were being given (Gill) stickers at that point.
“I found that once you were upstairs, (Gill supporters) were making sure that you got to the right location. I found that a bit unusual.”
Duvall, who backed his council colleague Cluett in the nomination, said it appeared as though nobody was in charge and when an argument broke out, nobody stepped in.
“At that point, a couple of ladies that were standing next to where we were voting said they were feeling very uncomfortable and that they wanted to leave,” he said.
Dykstra countered that the “meeting was carried out in a proper, calm and efficient manner.”
Gill announced he was seeking the nomination for the riding on Oct. 29, just a few weeks before the nomination meeting was to occur. The vote, however, was changed to June 2017 at the last minute.
Ian Winsor, a long-time Conservative in the region, believes it could have been done to give Gill more time to prepare for the contest and sell memberships.
“I asked the riding association and they pointed me to the central PC party,” he told CityNews. “They haven’t explained the reason for the switch.”
Neither Dykstra nor Milton PC riding association Vice-President Michael Vertolli answered questions about the rescheduled meeting.
Gill and Cluett did not respond to requests for comment..
Winsor is convinced Gill and Brown’s close relationship played a factor.
According to GIll’s social media accounts, the two are close. A March 30 post on Gill’s Facebook page shows pictures of the two men at a Milton Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
“Excellent event with my friend and leader of the PC party Patrick Brown,” Gill wrote.
In a July 2016 post, before he announced he was seeking the nomination, Gill is seen with his arm around Brown. “With our friend and leader of the Ontario PC party Patrick Brown,” he wrote.
And on Oct. 29 Gill posted: “I’ve been asked to carry the Ontario PC banner in the new riding of Milton under the leadership of our friend and leader Patrick Brown,” suggesting he had already secured the nomination.
Milton isn’t the only riding under a microscope.
The PC party had to retain the auditing services of PwC to oversee all nominations, after appeals were filed in Newmarket-Aurora and voting irregularities were detected in Ottawa West-Nepean, where 28 extra ballots were found in the ballot boxes. Karma Macgregor, a long-time Conservative and the mother of a Brown staffer, won that riding by 15 votes.
Former Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas candidate Vikram Singh is taking the party to court over allegations of “gross irregularities and voter fraud” in the May 7 nomination meeting. And now a Durham Region councillor is taking the party to court after he was barred from the ballot because he ran for the Liberals in 1985 and supported them financially in the past.
As a city councillor, Duvall knows he will be working with whoever wins the seat in the next election, but wants the Tories to clean up the process.
“I think it’s really important to make sure that the integrity of the process is maintained in every shape or form,” he said.
“It’s about time that maybe the province stepped in and says, ‘If you’re having a nomination, these are the rules and they are clear and concise and mimic as much as possible perhaps the way the provincial or federal elections are carried out.'”