OTTAWA — One of the most prominent members of the federal Conservative caucus is demanding answers from the party about the Rick Dykstra controversy.
Quebec member of Parliament Maxime Bernier, who finished a close second to Andrew Scheer in last year's leadership vote, wants to know why the disgraced former MP was allowed to run in the 2015 election — and he's not the only one.
Dykstra stepped down as president of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives amid allegations of sexual assault dating back to his time on Parliament Hill — accusations that were known to the federal party when they allowed him to seek re-election in his southern Ontario riding.
"I don't know why the party didn't do anything at that time and they have to answer these questions," Bernier said in Ottawa on his way into Wednesday's Conservative caucus meeting.
Bernier insisted he knew nothing of the allegations against Dykstra or former Ontario Conservative leader Patrick Brown prior to a series of media reports that led to the pair's political downfall.
The issue raises concerns about how candidates are selected, said Ontario MP Erin O'Toole, who also ran for the party's leadership.
"We need to make sure is there's a system for vetting and dealing with these situations even during an election," O'Toole said.
"We need a process that we're satisfied with, because clearly we're not satisfied with what happened during the election."
I don't know why the party didn't do anything at that time and they have to answer these questions.Maxime Bernier
But fellow Ontario MP Lisa Raitt, another former leadership hopeful, said whatever may have transpired in the past is beyond the control of the party's current caucus.
"All that I can control and all that the leader can control is what we do going forward. His clear message to caucus was given last week: zero tolerance. That's it. So, just because something happened in the past does not mean it's going to be the same way going into the future."
O'Toole said there is still merit in figuring out what happened.
"I don't want this to be a backwards-looking witch hunt, but I want us to make sure we learn from it and never allow such a situation to arise again."
The trio were among the few Conservatives willing to even discuss the issue Wednesday; party leader Andrew Scheer left the weekly meeting and ignored questions from the media, while nearly all of his MPs chose to leave the Hill without running the gauntlet of waiting reporters.
A spokesman for the party did not immediately return a request for comment. Previously, all the party would say is that they couldn't comment on decisions made by the 2015 campaign team.
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None of the members of the campaign team have returned requests for on-the-record comment about what happened.
Speaking anonymously to Maclean's magazine, campaign officials said they were aware Dykstra was accused of sexually assaulting a young staffer in 2014. There was a debate about whether he should be allowed to remain a candidate. That debate intensified after reports during the campaign that he bought drinks at a bar for teenage girls.
But he was ultimately allowed to continue as a candidate before going on to lose his seat in St. Catharines, Ont.
In a statement earlier this week, Dykstra's lawyers said he "categorically denies" the report in Maclean's, which has not been independently confirmed by The Canadian Press.