OTTAWA - Conservative party officials have chastised Tory MP Rob Anders for what they say were misleading phone calls placed during a heated nomination battle — a pointed message that they want the race to be fair and open.
Anders' campaign for the nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill placed calls to party members last week that might have left the impression they were calling from rival Ron Liepert's campaign.
A script for the calls, which was turned over to the party's National Candidate Selection Committee, features a person saying they are calling from the Conservatives and inquiring whether the party member will be supporting Liepert.
If the target of the call was unsure about who they would support, the caller would proceed to criticize Liepert, said a Conservative source familiar with the script's contents. The source was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Liepert, a former provincial cabinet minister challenging Anders for the Conservative nomination, lodged a complaint with Elections Canada earlier this week.
The Canadian Press obtained a letter sent to Anders by the selection committee, a powerful body that has the final say over who gets to run for the party.
"The NCSC has concluded that the script used by your campaign was inappropriate and misleading and should not have been used," said the letter, sent Thursday.
"We require that your campaign comply with its obligations to be accurate when communicating with members of the party, as you have now agreed to do."
Anders would not comment directly on the letter, but said he sees a difference between the party's stance and what Liepert has said about the calls.
He said he still intends on taking Liepert to court for what he has said about the issue, and points out that some of the calls made last week also asked whether the person was supporting his campaign.
"Mr. Liepert's intention was to go ahead and distract from the endorsement from the prime minister," Anders said in an interview.
"He is intentionally trying to smear and muddy waters in order to advance his own agenda. He's being misleading and defamatory with regard to his statements."
Liepert said he wanted to keep any discussions he's had with the party private.
"If the party chooses to make any comment relative to our concerns that were expressed — I will leave it up to them to make the comment," said Liepert.
"The party has been true to its word of holding a fair and open nomination process."
There remains a difference of opinion over whether the quotes attributed to Stephen Harper, which were provided to incumbent candidates for use in their campaigns, can indeed be considered endorsements. The quotes do not use the word "endorse," but instead praise the MP's work in government and in caucus.
The party's rebuke over the calls is a signal that the Conservatives are intent on living up to the promise to ensure a level playing field in nomination battles, even when one competitor is an incumbent MP.
It's the first time since the Conservatives formed government in 2006 that incumbents are not being protected from challengers.
A handful of MPs face nomination contests.
Among them is Eve Adams, now MP for Mississauga-Brampton South, who is fighting local chiropractor Natalia Lishchyna for the nomination in the new riding of Oakville-North Burlington.
—With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary
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