CANADA POLITICS
03/24/2014 14:49 EDT | Updated 05/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Calgary MP Rob Anders' website backtracks on Harper 'endorsement'

Last week, Justin Trudeau found himself coming under not-particularly-friendly fire from aggrieved party members over his party's move to bar former Liberal candidate Christine Innes from contesting the nomination to fill the now-vacant federal seat in Trinity–Spadina.

On Monday morning, it looked like Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be setting himself for an outburst of similar complaints after providing what was being billed as his official backing to Calgary West MP Rob Anders, who is currently battling former Alberta provincial finance minister Ron Liepert for the right to represent the party in the newly created riding of Calgary Signal Hill in 2015.

A news release posted to Anders' just-launched nomination campaign website claimed that Harper had "endorsed" the chronically controversial incumbent MP, although the comments attributed to Harper didn't seem to be quite as unequivocal as the headline might lead one to believe.

"Rob Anders has been a strong voice in our caucus and Conservative government as well as a valued member of our team," the release quoted the PM as saying. 

"The Road to 2015 is one that needs strong, stable leadership and I've been able to count on Rob to get real results for his riding and our country."

Notably absent from the PM's testimonial was the word "endorse" — or, for that matter, "nomination" — but Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann assured CBC News that it "reflects the Prime Minister's views about his caucus member."

The release also included a testimonial from Anders' caucus colleague, John Williamson.

Contacted by CBC News to confirm that he was, in fact, endorsing him in the nomination race, Williamson was happy to elaborate on his testimonial.

"(Anders') repeated contributions to our weekly caucus discussions are principled, as he dependably promotes lower taxes, spending discipline and conservative-oriented solutions," he explained via email.

It's fair to say that the notion of the prime minister himself explicitly endorsing candidates — particularly in hotly contested ridings like, for instance, Calgary Signal Hill — could be seen by those not fortunate enough to earn such favour as somewhat contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the party's commitment to a wide-open nomination process on the road to 2015.

Whether or not that same thought may have occurred, albeit retroactively, to the prime minister himself is unknown, but at some point during the day on Monday, the news release, and all references to his ostensible endorsement, disappeared from Anders' website.

The quotes from Harper and Williamson still appear on the "What's New" page, but there is no longer any suggestion that their words constitute a formal endorsement.

I've asked the party to clarify whether Anders was asked to take down the initial release, and will update this post as soon as I hear back.