The Conservative nomination vote in Ontario's new federal riding of Oakville North-Burlington may be at a standstill, but a heated battle rages on as the campaigns of MP Eve Adams and local chiropractor Natalia Lishchyna ratchet up their accusations against each other.
Adams and her fiancé, Dimitri Soudas, say the allegation that her campaign paid for party memberships in order to build up support ahead of the nomination is false.
While not illegal under Election Canada regulations, it's against Conservative Party rules for someone to pay for another's party membership.
In an interview on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Rosemary Barton asked Soudas if he paid for any membership cards himself.
"Oh my goodness, absolutely not," he said.
He referred to a specific incident in which he visited a family who agreed to sign up as Conservative Party members. But because they didn't have the money on them at the time, Soudas said he agreed to pick it up at a later date.
"The reality is we processed more than 1,500 memberships, and the specific case of this family, when we discovered that they had not paid and we had not collected the money from them, we actually asked the party, proactively, to remove them from the membership list before it was even public knowledge," he said.
"We ran a super-tight campaign here and administrative errors … sometimes do happen."
CBC News has also learned new details about complaints made by the Lishchyna campaign against Adams's team.
Family 'harassed' by Soudas
According to sources, Soudas called a family of five in the riding and pressured them to sign up for Conservative Party memberships.
The family told him that they were Liberal supporters, but that didn't stop Soudas from pushing ahead, sources said. He told them that it was OK for them to take out Conservative memberships and vote for Adams in the nomination race. He then allegedly said the family could discard them and vote Liberal in the general election.
The family told the party they felt "harassed" by Soudas. It has been confirmed to CBC News that the number calling the home was indeed Soudas's, made when he was still the director of the party.
Soudas was fired from the Conservative Party in March after it was made known he was trying to interfere in his fiancée's nomination battle.
This incident is among a number of complaints that Lishchyna's campaign director, John Myktyshyn, sent to the party about two weeks ago. The Lishchyna team said they have so far uncovered 38 cases of alleged membership fraud.
In a statement released on Friday, Lishchyna said she accepted that the campaign "would not be an easy road to travel" but didn't expect to witness "such unethical activity."
"It is more than distressing to see a sitting member of Parliament conduct her campaign in such an unscrupulous, unethical and unnecessary manner while she seeks the party nomination in a riding other than the riding she currently represents," she said.
Adams brushed off the comments.
Complaints vs. complaints
"You know what, this campaign has really been marked by the fact that we've taken the high road from Day 1," she said.
"I haven't been disparaging another Conservative in public. I adhere to Ronald Reagan's great adage, 'Thou shalt not speak ill of another Conservative,'" she said.
Earlier this week, Soudas filed his own complaint to the CRTC and Elections Canada on behalf of the Adams campaign.
The Adams team alleges that the Lishchyna camp badgered Conservative supporters with repeated phone calls by a telemarketing firm. They complain that the firm did not say it was working for Lishchyna, and thus violates telecommunications rules.
But sources tell CBC News those calls aren't illegal, because the Lishchyna camp had hired a firm to do surveys via live calls.
The party is currently investigating the complaints. It called a random sample of more than 10 per cent of the new members (1,500 to 1,800 new members have been signed up). The party made 150 to 180 calls and found that the complaints were almost all about Adams's campaign.
The Conservative Party National Selection Committee will look at the results of the investigation and then proceed to make a recommendation to Fred DeLorey, the director of political operations
Sources tell CBC News there could potentially be four results:
- The status quo could be maintained and the race goes on.
- Adams could be told she can't run in Oakville North-Burlington and must instead find another riding.
- Adams would not be able to run at all.
- The race would continue, but some of the new party members would be disqualified from voting in the nomination.
Sources say these are still uncharted waters and there is no time frame for the completion of the investigation.
Damage to Conservative brand?
This is just the latest instalment of the saga of Oakville North-Burlington Conservative nomination battle, which some say could reflect on the party.
When asked if Adams was worried about the damage such mudslinging would cause to the Conservative brand, she said the constituents of the riding wouldn't get caught in it.
"You know, voters here in Oakville North-Burlington are pretty smart and savvy and they've seen through this. They know I'm the one that's showing up on their doorsteps to discuss issues with them," she said to Barton.
Soudas, who before getting fired from the party was a close confidant to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, also weighed in.
"The only people who have damaged the party in this process is Ms. Lischyna and her campaign manager, John Mykytyshyn," he said.
Last month, the Conservative Party warned Adams to behave and to concentrate on her current position as a member of Parliament and on her role as parliamentary secretary to the minister of health.
Adams is the MP for the neighbouring Mississauga-Brampton South riding, which is to be split among several new ridings in 2015 when Elections Canada adds another 30 electoral districts to the Canadian map.
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