OTTAWA — The Conservative Party of Canada postponed a contentious nomination battle Thursday after allegations MP Eve Adams and fiancé Dimitri Soudas improperly bought party memberships for at least 20 of her supporters.
Late Thursday, Conservative spokesman Cory Hann said the party was postponing Saturday’s vote in the new riding of Oakville North-Burlington.
“To ensure a fair and open nomination process, the Conservative Party of Canada has determined the Oakville North-Burlington nomination meeting...must be postponed in order to fully review complaints received,” he said in a statement.
“The Conservative Party believes in upholding the integrity of our nomination process, and apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.”
Hann said the vote will be rescheduled for a future date after a thorough review has been completed.
The party’s surprise announcement is a win for Oakville chiropractor Natalia Lishchyna who was facing a tough fight from Adams, currently the MP for Mississauga Brampton South.
The race has been marred by accusations from both sides of impropriety.
Lishchyna’s campaign freely admits she is trailing by 150 votes. But this week her advisor, John Mykytyshyn, accused Adams’ camp of membership fraud. Mykytyshyn had been in contact with the party and hoped the race would be postponed.
He told The Huffington Post Canada on Thursday evening that he was “heartened that the party is investigating thoroughly all allegations.”
The Adams campaign responded that her opponent was "afraid of the vote this Saturday but it can't be delayed indefinitely."
Mykytyshyn said a random telephone survey by a firm hired by Lishchyna’s campaign of 238 households in the riding uncovered 38 examples of alleged Conservative membership fraud.
They include, he said:
– 15 additional cases where individuals said their party memberships were paid by Eve Adams’ campaign.
– 12 cases where individuals said they did not pay for their Conservative party memberships and someone else paid.
– Six cases in which Conservative party members told interviewers they were also Liberal party members – a violation of the Conservative party and Liberal party constitutions.
On Wednesday, Mykytyshyn also accused Soudas of paying for five party memberships. Soudas was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former director of communications and the party’s executive director until late March when he was fired for breaching his contract and interfering in his fiancée’s race.
In a letter provided by Lishchyna’s campaign, an unidentified accuser says Soudas called her household every other day until she agreed to join the party, even though she wasn’t interested in a membership.
“I said that I have always voted Liberal and that I wasn't interested in being a Conservative member. He said that it didn't matter, because he just needed me to join so I could vote for Eve, and that when it came to election time, it didn't matter if I didn't vote Conservative,” she wrote.
Although she agreed to sign up her husband and three daughters, the letter writer refused to pay the $15 membership fee per person.
“I just said that I didn't have any cash on hand. [Soudas] said not to worry and that when I had the cash just to call him and he would pick it up. I had no intention of ever paying the fee. We didn't want to be Conservative party members and I wasn't going to pay $75 to do him a favour,” she wrote.
Somehow, however, the membership fees were paid, the family members were registered and included in the party’s membership list that was shared with the two candidates last week.
In a conversation with HuffPost on Wednesday, Soudas did not deny paying for the party membership. But in an email Thursday, he said there was one instance where a family who signed up asked Adams’ campaign to return later for payment because they didn’t have any cash on hand.
“When we returned to pick up the money they had reconsidered their membership despite agreeing and signing the form. We therefore immediately requested from the Party to cancel their membership,” Soudas wrote. That happened last week, he seemed to suggest.
Soudas said Lishchyna’s team is the one acting improperly.
“This is a desperate campaign repeatedly trying to make untrue and unfounded allegations,” he wrote in the email. “They have thrown mud at every opportunity and have only lost ground.”
Soudas charged that Lishchyna’s team was using a telemarketing firm to make “harassing phone calls” to members asking questions about the principles of the Conservative party.
“They even repeatedly called 14-year-old young supporters and campaign volunteers of Eve's, to badger them yesterday. Desperate,” Soudas wrote.
Adams’ financé said he had written to the CRTC and Elections Canada about the calls. He declined to provide copies of the letters but provided recordings of the calls:
Audio released from Natalia Lishchyna's campaign:
“Our voters feel this is a voter-suppression technique and appears to be a clear violation of CRTC regulations when they refused to disclose on whose behalf they were calling,” Soudas told HuffPost.
CRTC spokesman Eric Rancourt, however, said there was “no requirement to identify the person on whose behalf the call is made” if the company was making live calls.
Mykytyshyn said the calls were for research and were not designed to solicit support or discourage anyone from voting for Adams.
He said he believes Adams’ campaign has engaged in “massive voter fraud” and said the calls helped the campaign collect evidence that they turned over to the party.
There is no love lost between the two camps.
Mykytyshyn called Soudas “Canada’s most acclaimed spinner, liar and bullshitter.”
Soudas had words to describe Mykytyshyn but he did not want them on the record.
Instead, he pointed out that Lishchyna had never donated to the Conservative Party of Canada. He noted that she had donated $200 to the local provincial Liberal riding association in 2009 while she was a sitting board member of the Oakville provincial Progressive Conservative riding association and the federal Oakville Conservative riding association. He questioned her loyalty to the party.
Soudas dug up a Financial Services Commission of Ontario record that suggested the agency found against Lishchyna, who was paid by an insurance company for her chiropractic expertise. And he alleged that at least one of her supporters had signed up his daughter who was not a Conservative and who had not paid for her own membership.
The Oakville North-Burlington race has been vicious. Lishchyna accused Adams of using her parliamentary resources to help her campaign. Adams had to apologize after she portrayed herself as the riding’s MP in one ethnic media outlet. Soudas has also been accused of offering summer jobs or recommendation letters to those who volunteer on Adams’ team. Lishchyna’s attempts to get Adams disqualified failed. Instead, she has mounted a strong campaign with 150 volunteers, according to Soudas.
The Oakville North–Burlington race wasn’t the only controversial battle scheduled for the weekend.
Friday evening, party members in the Ontario riding of Dufferin–Caledon are being asked to choose who will represent them at the next federal election: longtime MP David Tilson or former ministerial staffer Paul Hong.
Hong, 35, who has worked for three foreign affairs ministers in Ottawa and is well liked on Parliament Hill, recently returned home to compete for the nomination – only one of a handful of Conservative party races in which party incumbents are being challenged.
Hong told HuffPost that the tone of the race has been respectful and that his message is only one of party renewal.
“I’m not saying anything critical of David. In fact, I’ve volunteered on several of his campaigns, I’ve door-knocked for him, I’ve banged lawn signs and even donated $500 in his last campaign...and served seven years on his board of directors.”
Hong said he called Tilson before he announced his run and began selling party memberships. While his team is promoting him as a fresh face and new blood, Hong said the riding needs renewal now rather than in 2019 when the Liberals are more likely to win.
“If parties don’t renew internally, the voters will do it for them,” he said over the phone. Tilson has been the MP for 10 years and was the riding’s MPP for 12 years before that.
“This is about the process of renewal here to get the grassroots energized, to get new volunteers and to get people excited,” Hong said.
“There are some other nastier nomination battles happening elsewhere, this has not been the approach that I have taken,” he added.
Tilson did not want to be interviewed, but a source in his camp suggested he was taken aback at being challenged.
The Conservative party’s nomination process is heavily slanted in favour of incumbents. There is no publicity about nomination races. Written notices go out to party members. Several would-be challengers have seen their candidacy disqualified by the party for unexplained or disputed reasons.
MPs have been told to stay out of the race unless they want to back incumbent MPs.
In Dufferin–Caledon, Friday’s 10 p.m. vote will be held in Tilson’s neck of the woods, where he has more support. Several of Hong’s supporters have also gone missing from the local Conservative membership list.
“Like my mom and dad are not on the membership list,” he said. But he shrugged it off as a “party process” or “human error.”
“The party has the ability to say who can vote and who can’t vote, so we are just sorting that out now,” he said.
Hong said he expects to campaign for the Conservatives in 2015, whether or not he wins the race.
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