OTTAWA - Conservatives across the country are watching closely to see whether party brass live up to their promise of fair and open nominations, as the first races quietly get underway in the lead-up to the 2015 election.
While incumbents were protected from challengers during the minority government years, this is the first time nominations have been declared fair game.
Former Alberta cabinet minister Ron Liepert, who is hoping to upset MP Rob Anders for the privilege of carrying the Conservative banner in Calgary-Signal Hill, said his team had to be on the ball to find out the nomination countdown had started in that riding.
After the Toronto Star published a leaked memo last month that said the party wanted to speed up certain nominations to help incumbents — including Anders specifically — Liepert's people began making calls to Tory HQ to check the date.
Sure enough, the nominations had opened last week, starting the 14-day clock.
"I fully expect the party's going to follow through on its commitment to have open nominations across the country," said Liepert, who sent his completed papers.
In Saskatchewan, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz's riding of Battlefords-Lloydminster has opened for nominations, where Ritz does not appear to be facing any competition. And the nomination race for Calgary East — MP Deepak Obhrai's riding — has also opened.
The names of both Ritz and Obhrai had also appeared in the leaked memo as nominations the party wanted to have in the bag early.
The Canadian Press asked the party to share the names of ridings that opened their nomination processes. Spokesman Cory Hann responded in an email by saying "these are internal party matters."
Conservatives, meanwhile, are watching with interest how the race will unfold in the new Ontario riding of Oakville-North Burlington, where a longtime local Conservative will be competing against MP and parliamentary secretary Eve Adams.
There's no word on when the party will fire the starting gun there.
Adams, who currently represents the Ontario riding of Mississauga-Brampton South, is also the partner of the party's executive director, Dimitri Soudas — a fact that has only fed the curiosity around the local nomination process.
Dr. Natalia Lishchyna, an Oakville, Ont., chiropractor and college professor, has worked on campaigns for MP Terence Young and has support on the new riding association board. She said she approaches the process with optimism.
"If I told you I didn't have any concerns at all, that wouldn't be forthright. But I think the Conservative party wants to make sure that there's good people representing the ridings, and the nomination meetings are an area where you can find very good candidates and I think we're doing that here, too," said Lishchyna.
A party source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Soudas has removed himself from any involvement in Oakville-North Burlington. That job will instead fall to the party president.
Larry Scott, a candidate for the provincial Tories in Oakville, said he's firmly backing Lishchyna. Scott said party members would be upset if headquarters did anything to prevent her from running.
"There's an old saying that all politics is local, and Oakville and North Oakville, this is a really local area," Scott said of the dynamic.
"Everybody knows everybody, and those people who've been supporters, you've just seen them for years and you know who they are."
Adams says she is perfectly capable of "standing on my own two feet," having successfully fought off a wide roster of Ontario municipal candidates at Mississauga city hall in the past and handily beating Liberal MP Navdeep Bains in 2011.
Adams adds that she's been investing time meeting with local groups and residents, and emphasizes that she lives within the riding boundaries while Lishchyna does not.
"I have a proven track record — I run and I win, because of hard work and because of a great team of volunteers," said Adams.
The party recently decided that ridings that have held byelection nomination races since the 2011 election won't have to do so again, thereby protecting a handful of incumbents.
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