Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives have decided to hold new nomination contests in two ridings – Ottawa West-Nepean and Scarborough Centre – after a party committee met to review certain disputed nominations.
The party’s Provincial Nominations Committee met Friday evening to examine allegations of voting irregularities.
In a brief statement Friday night, committee co-chair Ken Zeise announced that the committee decided unanimously to hold the new contests, with further details to be provided at a later date.
The decision came after Tory candidates in three ridings – Ottawa West-Nepean, Scarborough Centre and Newmarket Aurora – released a statement Friday asking for the review to be halted.
“We learned today that there are actions being taken against a number of candidates by certain individuals based on rumours and innuendos,” the statement from Thenusha Parani, Karma Macgregor and Charity McGrath said. “What’s more, we have not been asked for or provided an opportunity to provide our perspective.”
The party has been dogged by controversial nomination battles in ridings across the province, including allegations of vote-stuffing in races near Hamilton and Ottawa. In the riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, police are investigating the PC nomination.
The party eventually hired auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers to oversee their nomination contests after complaints began to emerge.
The candidates under review had asked PC leader Vic Fedeli and the party’s three leadership candidates to end the probe and focus on the provincial campaign.
Caroline Mulroney, one of the leadership candidates, said she would leave any decision about the nomination battles to Fedeli. But Doug Ford, another competitor, told CTV News he’d like to see the contests run again.
The review also came as the party deals with the discovery of a significant discrepancy in its membership numbers. An email recently sent to the Tory caucus and obtained by The Canadian Press showed the party has roughly 67,000 fewer members than the 200,000 claimed by former leader Patrick Brown.
Jim Karahalios, a former party member who clashed with Brown over the nomination process and other issues, said Friday that the Progressive Conservatives have no choice but to start from scratch in the contested ridings.
“I don’t think it helps our party or the next leader to go into an election campaign where people are questioning the legitimacy of the candidate in the race,” he said, noting it would leave those candidates open to attack from rivals and potentially jeopardize support from other party members.
The controversies over the party’s nominations and its membership numbers are “part and parcel of the same problem,” because they indicate problematic practices in the party and the prior administration, Karahalios said.
In Ontario, there are few ways to know if party membership rolls are accurate, since there is no real-time independent reporting mechanism and parties police their own figures.
According to Elections Ontario, the provinces’ Election Finances Act says parties must maintain a membership list that indicates the amount they charge for membership fees and the total amount collected for those fees in a year. Those figures are reported annually in a party’s audited financial statements.
Peter Graefe, a political science professor at Hamilton’s McMaster University, said there is no way for outsiders to know how many members a party has, and there is incentive for parties to inflate their ranks in order to show strength.
But that can backfire during a leadership convention, when the votes are tallied and it appears the party can’t mobilize its members, he said.
“I do wonder if this cutting is actually just being honest about what the membership level is so that you don’t get a black eye when you have the one-member-one-vote election and people notice,” he said.
The clash over the nominations has been embarrassing for the Tories, but won’t likely have a huge impact on general voters, Graefe added. And while it’s unusual for parties to reopen nominations, he said it’s not uncommon for them to still be electing candidates this close to an election.