04/26/2013 03:45 EDT | Updated 06/26/2013 05:12 EDT

John Cummins, BC Conservatives Leader, Defends Party Vetting


VANCOUVER - B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins said his party has done the best it could with the resources available to vet candidates after being forced to drop three candidates in the first weeks of the campaign.

The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP each have mechanisms to screen potential candidates, but the systems aren't foolproof.

The provincial Tories dismissed Mischa Popoff in the Boundary-Similkameen riding over comments he made in newspaper columns that Cummins said were insensitive and disrespectful, to women and single mothers in particular.

"The folks that are examining the track records, if you will, of our candidates are all volunteers. They've been working their hearts out and sometimes you're going to make mistakes or you don't investigate deeply enough. That happens.

"You can't anticipate everything. We've done the best that we can with the resources that we can. I think our vetting process for the most part has been quite good."

"We've gone back as far as we can on the Google," Cummins said. "We've had a huge number of candidates that we've had to check. You go back a hundred pages or whatever the case may be. If somebody goes back 500 they may find something. We did the best that we can. Obviously no party wants the kind of embarrassment that comes when you have to pull somebody's ticket but that's what happens. That's life."

The party issued a statement late Thursday announcing that Popoff had been taken off their slate.

"We are a party that believes in a respectful airing of views. Mr. Popoff's statements were unacceptable and he has been removed as a candidate," said the terse email.

Popoff writes newspaper columns that appear in several Okanagan-Similkameen weekly newspapers 26 times a year.

Local newspaper reports say Popoff, a former leader of the Individual Rights Party, deemed the public inquiry into the missing women murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton a waste of money and he also made comments critical of women who choose to have children without a partner.

Under the column headline "Kids with dads turn out better," Popoff wrote: "No one can blame a woman who experiences divorce or abandonment after having kids. The issue is with women who enter parenthood with their eyes wide open without a man by their side, either by using a man to get pregnant or through a sperm bank. In either case, unless they're very well off, the kids they bestow upon this world are headed for disaster. Why applaud, let alone condone this?"

Popoff told the Penticton Western News online on Friday that he would run as an Independent candidate.

"They say I am going to help them lose the women's vote," he told the newspaper, referring to a call he received Thursday night from campaign manager Jeff Bridge.

He said the column statements are being taken out of context.

"I am shocked and for the record, I didn't say anything against women, I said something against the inquiry," he said.

Popoff said party officials knew he wrote newspaper columns.

"What did they think I was writing about? Did they think I was writing about, to use that example of the Missing Women Inquiry, do you think I would have written a column saying `Oh, great job?'" he told a Vancouver radio station.

He said he feels he revealed everything about himself while he was vetted.

"It’s like you're naked. You’re standing before them, saying ‘Could I please stand as a candidate for your party?’ And they say, ‘Okay, thank you.’ They take the package along with a deposit and then they get back to you," he said.

Popoff served as Conservative party vice president until he resigned in July 2010. Popoff announced his resignation from the position in the Penticton Western News where he wrote that he disagreed with the party's stance on the HST.

Earlier this week, the provincial Conservatives dropped Ian Tootill from the ballot in Vancouver-False Creek over statements he made on Twitter last fall about Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler.

Tootill asked "Who's really to blame? Hitler or the people who acted on his words?"

That was just two days after North Vancouver-Lonsdale candidate Jeff Sprague stepped down in the midst of a drunk driving investigation.

North Vancouver RCMP Cpl. Richard De Jong confirmed that officers are investigating an impaired driving incident in North Vancouver involving a driver who crashed into two parked cars and was arrested.

While De Jong would not confirm the name of the driver, the incident coincides with Sprague's resignation.

And, said Cummins in a response to reporters questions about his party's vetting process, "if there's an impaired driving charge, we took action."

The leader says he's unsure how many of the 85 ridings will have B.C. Conservative candidates. The party had 55 candidates listed at the start of the campaign and the deadline for nominations was Friday.

The Conservative party is not the only provincial party that has been forced to eject candidates.

Just hours into the campaign, the NDP dropped Kelowna-Mission candidate Dayleen Van Ryswyk over comments she made on a news website that took aim at First Nations and French Canadians.

The Liberals, however, have so far escaped the embarrassment. Colin Hansen, who is the party's deputy campaign manager, said a committee of lawyers thoroughly reviews the backgrounds of potential candidates.

Hansen said the process starts with a questionnaire.

"The entire questionnaire is about 44 pages long," he said. "It looks at their background and jobs and family and whether they've got any skeletons in the closet to tell us about at the start of the process."

"The other thing we will do is a very thorough Internet search," he said. "We'll also go back through things like letters to the editor that they've written over, in some cases, 25 years."

Asked what his party would do if one of those skeletons fell through the cracks, Hansen replied, "We think we've done a pretty thorough check of our candidates from the get go. We are not expecting any surprises."

Elections BC confirmed that as of Friday if any more candidates are dropped by their parties, their names will remain on the ballot but will be listed with "no affiliation" next to them.

(The Canadian Press-News1130)

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