07/10/2015 05:34 EDT | Updated 07/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Baird, MacKay Ridings Under Hot Conservative Nomination Battles

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (C) speaks with Canadian Defence Minister Peter Mackay (L) and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird (R) at the International Security Assistance Force ISAF meeting on Afghanistan during the 2012 NATO Summit May 21, 2012 at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)
The exit of two high-profile cabinet ministers has seen the Conservative Party holding hotly contested nomination battles in Ontario and Nova Scotia, with upstarts taking on candidates backed by the party establishment and even allegations of illicit access to membership lists.

In Central Nova, NS, where Justice Minister Peter MacKay has said he won't run again this fall, the party's director of political operations is taking on a local retired principal.

Fred Delorey, who also held the post of director of communications in the party for four years, is attempting to carry the party's banner there after spending the past 13 years in Ottawa.

Delorey is also close with Jenni Byrne, the woman in charge of the party's national campaign.

But Jim Ryan, who says he's lived in the riding's Pictou County his whole life, appeared to have some support from MacKay and Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson. The two cabinet ministers wrote letters of reference on Ryan's behalf when he lacked a current party membership and needed permission to run.

MacKay 'remaining neutral'

"Minister MacKay has come out in a letter to the members of the party here, copied to both Fred and I, that he will be remaining neutral and he will be willing to work with the winning candidate regardless of who it is," Ryan told CBC News in an interview.

Ryan confirmed the cabinet minister had written the party on his behalf.

The Central Nova nomination vote will be held over two days, July 24 and 25, in three locations, Ryan said, because the riding is large and rural.

But as of two weeks before the vote, the candidates don't have the final party membership list for the riding. A spokesman for the party referred CBC News to the rules for nomination meetings, which warns contestants to get membership packages in well before deadline to lessen the delay in getting the final list. 

Ryan says he had trouble getting an earlier version of the list from the party, though insiders say the list would have been far from perfect because MacKay's popularity meant the party didn't have to maintain its list. MacKay also opted out of the party's voter information database, known as CIMS, meaning the central party wouldn't hold the same member information he did.

"It was a challenge to get signatures for the nomination papers because even the people who thought they were regular holders of membership would find out that their memberships had lapsed," Ryan said.

Delorey didn't respond to a request for comment sent through his official website. 

Nepean race leads to complaints

While the Central Nova race is still on, another party insider has already defeated the establishment candidate in Ottawa's Nepean riding.

The riding was expected to be where former foreign affairs minister John Baird would run until he retired from politics earlier this year. At that point, Andy Wang, a staffer from the office of neighbouring MP Pierre Poilievre, entered the contest. 

The newly created Nepean riding contains part of Poilievre's existing riding thanks to new boundaries that come into effect for this fall's election. (Poilievre is the nominated candidate in the new riding of Kanata-Carleton.)

Wang was challenged by Bob Plamondon, a long-time Conservative with the backing of Baird and of most of the riding association's executive. Wang won the nomination on June 28.

But the aftermath has been unpleasant in Nepean: the riding association president and two other executive members quit following the nomination meeting. The riding president complained to the party months ago that she suspected Wang was campaigning using the membership list he accessed through his job in Poilievre's office.

Days after Wang won the June 28 nomination, an anonymous letter sent to some journalists and to some in the riding alleged questionable tactics by some of Wang's supporters. The information in the letter has not been confirmed by CBC News. Wang didn't respond to a request for comment sent through his website.

Party spokesman Cory Hann wouldn't comment on whether the party looked into the allegation Wang used a membership list from Poilievre's office.

"We're running fair and open nominations and any complaints the party receives are taken seriously and investigated," Hann wrote in an email to CBC News.


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