OTTAWA — Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier blasted his rival Kevin O’Leary as a “loser” and a “bad candidate” after the celebrity businessman complained to the party of potential membership fraud.
UPDATE: One day after Kevin O’Leary complained of widespread membership fraud, the Conservatives on Friday announced a review had found 1,351 memberships were purchased through two IP addresses and not bought by the individuals themselves — a breach of party rules.
The party said the memberships were made “anonymously” through its website, and pointed the finger at no one campaign. Spokesman Cory Hann said these members had been removed from the party’s list and would not be eligible to vote. He said the investigation was complete.
Over the past six months, 1,233 memberships had been purchased on the party’s website with prepaid credit card and roughly half were traced to those two IP addresses, the party said.
In a fundraising note to Conservative members Friday, Bernier called O’Leary desperate.
“Kevin O’Leary is losing. He knows my campaign has raised more money, signed up more members, has more supporters, and more volunteers. He’s a bad candidate,” Bernier wrote.
Conservative Party leadership candidate Maxime Bernier listens at a debate on February 13, 2017 in Montreal. (Photo: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
“Instead of trying to win people over by putting out a platform, he’s throwing mud to try to save his campaign.”
Bernier wrote that while he has been building a team of supporters, O’Leary has been vacationing in Florida, filming in Los Angeles and selling his wine on the home shopping channel in the United States.
“Kevin O’Leary is a loser. I’m a winner.”
O'Leary's camp alleges 'voter fraud'
Bernier told The Huffington Post Canada Thursday that he planned to fight back against O’Leary’s claims of widespread voter fraud. As HuffPost first reported, O’Leary’s camp complained to the party that Bernier’s Ontario organization was allegedly signing up members en masse in the Tamil community, using pre-paid credit cards.
In a note to party members Thursday, O’Leary did not name Bernier but said he’d learned backroom organizers were “committing widespread vote rigging” and potentially breaking the party’s rules by buying their leadership victory.
"When I decided to enter the Conservative Leadership Race I made a pledge to always put integrity before politics, and to stand up for what is right, even if it is politically the more difficult thing to do. Today, unfortunately, I must shed the light of transparency on something I have discovered within our own Party,” O’Leary wrote.
Kevin O'Leary speaks at Queen's University, in Kingston, Ont., on March 16, 2017. (Photo: Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)
Friday, he issued another statement saying the party had informed him that a “pattern of suspicious memberships has been identified.”
“This is the kind of unscrupulous activity that turns people off politics. This type of deceit is extremely damaging to the Party,” O’Leary wrote.
Then, in a series of tweets, the TV personality asked the 13 other candidates “to put politics aside” and “unite to protect the integrity of democracy” by join him in demanding that the party throw out falsified memberships. “Who’s with me?” O’Leary tweeted.
Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost tweeted back: “Honestly sorry this did not work out the way you expected, good luck in all your future endeavors.”
Vancouver businessman Rick Peterson responded: “Start showing up for #cpcldr debates and be a #cpc team player and we’ll chat.”
Former MP Andrew Saxton replied in French: “I ask you to enter politics and promote democracy by showing up to the debates. Are you with me?”
O’Leary announced his leadership bid the day after the Quebec City French debate. The unilingual anglophone decided not to show up to the party’s bilingual debate in Edmonton, saying he disliked the format. O’Leary has also suggested he may not show up to the final debate in Toronto next month.
Conservative challenger Kellie Leitch said on Twitter that O’Leary casting aspersions on other candidates, without a shred of evidence, said everything Canadians needed to know about him.
Lisa Raitt, another leadership hopeful, tweeted that the rules needed to be upheld. “Any allegations contrary, demand an investigation.”
While Deepak Obhrai said he agreed with O’Leary that “we must Unite to protect the integrity of our democracy.”
Conservative spokesman Cory Hann told HuffPost Friday that the party is investigating O'Leary's allegations and so far has found anomalies with some memberships purchased through the party website.
“We’re looking into that to ensure all the rules are being followed,” he wrote in an email. “Of the membership purchases we found that we believe may not be within the rules, all came through in our regular membership process, and not through any specific leadership campaign.”
Bernier told HuffPost that his campaign, like many others, is hording its membership sign-ups until the March 28 deadline to prevent other campaigns from contacting his supporters. After memberships are turned over to the party, supporters start receiving emails from all the contenders in the race.
However, one of his volunteers, Babu Nagalingam told HuffPost he has been encouraging Bernier supporters to register directly on the party’s website.
One of Bernier’s key organizers in the Tamil community, Sri Vallipuranathan, hung up the telephone when reached Friday evening.
Also on HuffPost