OTTAWA - The disappointing number of supporters who've registered to vote in the Liberal leadership contest has exploded into a nasty dispute between front-runner Justin Trudeau and rival Joyce Murray.
Murray's camp is crying foul over the Trudeau team's attempt to extend Thursday's deadline for voter registration by one week.
Jamie Carroll, Murray's campaign chairman, says the Trudeau camp's justification for the extension "doesn't smell right."
The Trudeau team maintains an extension is warranted because the party is having trouble getting registration notices and forms to more than 100,000 people who signed up as Liberal supporters without providing email addresses.
All members and supporters must register by Thursday in order to be entitled to vote. As of Tuesday, just over 90,000 had registered — less than a third of the 294,000 who signed up to participate in the leadership contest.
Carroll said there are only two explanations for why the party has no email addresses for so many supporters: organizers for one or more camps were incompetent and didn't ask for email addresses or they deliberately withheld email co-ordinates so that the party would be unable to share them with rival camps.
"To our mind, there's only two possible conclusions: incompetence or malice," Carroll said in an interview, adding that the latter seems most likely
In neither case, Carroll said, should the party ride to the rescue by extending the deadline for registration.
"There's an appeal process in place for legitimate technical or other concerns. But if this is because a camp either neglected to collect email addresses or chose not to share them with the party, I have no sympathy."
While he didn't directly accuse the Trudeau camp, Carroll said most of the supporters without email addresses were signed up by the front-runner's team, which boasts that it recruited about 165,000 supporters.
Less than 10 per cent of the supporters signed up by the Murray camp did not provide email addresses, Carroll said, adding he's unaware of any other camp — except Trudeau's — that had a significant problem providing that information.
Trudeau is widely thought to have an insurmountable lead but the failure of as much as 60 per cent of his supporters to register "could be" enough to change the outcome of the contest, Carroll added.
Trudeau representative Cyrus Reporter said about 30,000 of the supporters without email addresses signed up through other camps or directly through the party's website. More than 60,000 were signed up by the Trudeau camp.
Reporter insisted Trudeau had nothing to gain by deliberately withholding email addresses, since — as has become abundantly clear — it's much harder to register those who can't be reached by the party electronically.
"We're exclusively focused on ensuring that every supporter who was signed up appropriately and on time has the ability to register on time," he said in an interview.
"That is our one and exclusive concern is making sure those people are not disenfranchised by a process or a timeline that doesn't take into account the realities of what's happening right now."
The reality, Reporter added, is that the party mailed registration packages to many of those without email addresses only late last week. Consequently, many will receive their packages just before — or just after — Thursday's deadline.
Trudeau's request for an extension was discussed Tuesday by party brass and during a candidates' liaison meeting. Other than Murray's camp, the other six camps supported or at least raised no initial objections to an extension.
However, Martin Cauchon's camp changed its mind late Tuesday, informing the party that it too now objects to an extension.
The party is expected to announce a decision by Wednesday.
Carroll acknowledged the party is in a "really, really tough spot."
"If they accede to the (Trudeau) request, then they'll be accused of favouritism ... and, if they don't, they'll be accused of being undemocratic and disenfranchising prospective Liberal voters."