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CPC membership debacle: Tamil Conservative Party members feel unjustly called out

By Chelsea Nash      

Politically involved Tamils say if the party doesn’t release names of those responsible, it reflects poorly on entire community.

Conservative leadership candidates at the Manning Centre debates in Ottawa. From left: Andrew Scheer, Kevin O'Leary, Rick Peterson, and Maxime Bernier. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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Several Tamil Conservative Party members are urging the Conservative Party of Canada to continue its investigation into the disallowed memberships it discovered, and to ultimately release the names of those responsible.

Roshan Nallaratnam, who ran for the Conservative Party in the 2015 federal election but lost to Liberal Bill Blair (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.), and Raj Subramaniam say the recent membership fraud debacle in the Conservative Party leadership race reflects poorly on the entire Tamil Canadian community, and is discouraging to Canadian Tamils who want to get involved in local politics.

Mr. Subramaniam, who once ran for city councillor in Markham, said he considers the association of the Tamils with membership fraud, without specifying who is responsible, to be “punishing the entire Tamil community.”

It’s something he feels “awkward” about, he said, because “as a Canadian, we want to make changes too.”

Last month, leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary released a statement alleging “backroom organizers [were] committing widespread vote rigging and potentially breaking our electoral and financing laws to try to buy a leadership victory.”

Following Mr. O’Leary’s allegations, The Huffington Post Canada reported that “the alleged scheme involves Tamil field co-ordinators in the Toronto-area.” The Globe and Mail also referred to Tamil organizers, but both reports indicated that the Tamils allegedly involved in the illegitimate memberships were supporting Maxime Bernier’s campaign.

But some Tamils involved with the Conservative Party say that’s just not enough information, and that the association of Tamil Canadians with the membership fraud, without naming individuals, is detrimental to the political involvement of Tamils in Canada.

That’s why they want the party to further its investigation into the matter to find the people responsible, and then make that information public.

“It’s an insult to the entire community,” Mr. Nallaratnam said. “A lot of people work hard to involve themselves in Canada’s democratic process, and then there might be one or two kind of black sheep who’re trying to do dirty games.”  

“The party needs to get deeper. They have two IP addresses. The party should definitely come out and say these are the individuals [responsible].”

‘Home country’ politics

Mike Coates, Kevin O’Leary’s campaign manager, said in an interview last week that he “understands” the point of view of the Tamils who feel they have been caught up in the fray.

Mr. Coates said Ron Chatha, who was the person who alerted the O’Leary campaign to the membership troubles in the first place, ended up getting “calls from people in communities that he’s in, thanking him for doing it because so many new Canadians just want to play a role in our democracy.”

The problem, Mr. Coates said, is “you have a lot of old time, traditional Canadians who take advantage of the way politics was played back in their home country.”

“They don’t want to be used that way,” he added.

Mr. Nallaratnam said that’s exactly what happens: some political organizers within the community take advantage of the way politics is done in India, or Sri Lanka. 

Mr. Nallaratnam pointed to one of the key Tamil organizers working for Mr. Bernier’s campaign: Babu Nagalingam.

He said Mr. Nagalingam has a reputation for making promises he has no ability to keep.

“This is not Sri Lanka, this is not India, stop with your dirty games,” he said.

Mr. Nagalingam responded by email to the allegation by saying “I can’t not tell people to be involved. They need to be inspired.”

Mr. Nallaratnam also criticized Mr. Nagalingam for working for the Liberal candidate Mr. Blair in the last federal election, and now aligning himself with the Conservative Party again. Mr. Nallaratnam was running against Mr. Blair.

Mr. Nagalingam said, “the community is motivated by actions not blind partisan allegiances,” and that the Tamil community was mobilized not by promises he made, but by candidates who had shown their commitment to the community.

He pointed to Mr. Blair and Patrick Brown, the Ontario PC leader who mobilized the Tamil community in 2015 to support him in his leadership bid, as having done just that. But in the federal leadership race, he said Tamil Canadians were not rallying behind any one candidate.

“Frankly, there is not a giant Tamil involvement in this federal leadership as there is no Bill Blair or Patrick Brown,” Mr. Nagalingam said.

Mr. Nagalingam also said the 1,351 memberships the party found to be illegitimate could not have come from the Tamils supporting Mr. Bernier, because at that point, those memberships had not yet been submitted.

Party looks to Chief Electoral Officer for help with investigation

Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann said the Conservative Party has done what it can do internally, and has completed its review of “potential ineligible membership purchases.” The 1,351 memberships it found to be disallowed were purchased anonymously through two IP addresses, and not purchased by the individual members themselves.

The money the party received as a result of thse illegitimate memberships (a minimum of $20,200 if all the memberships were one-year memberships) was handed over to the Chief Electoral Officer, he said.

“We’re not able to trace beyond the IP address, and so the party has reached out to the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections offering to provide any additional information that they may require or need,” Mr. Hann wrote in an emailed response to questions.

iPolitics reported that Elections Canada confirmed its involvement in the investigation, though it did not offer further comment.

O’Leary camp wants rivals to release membership numbers to look for discrepancies

Since the initial allegations were released by Mr. O’Leary’s campaign, the deadline for candidates to sign up new members—March 28—has come and gone. While some leadership candidates have publicly said how many members they signed up, the majority of the 14 candidates are keeping that information to themselves.

That prompted Mr. O’Leary’s team to once again issue a statement, this time urging his fellow candidates to release the number of members they signed up as soon as possible.

The reason for this ask is to make sure there’s no discrepancy between candidates’ claims about memberships, and the official membership numbers that the Conservative Party will likely release at the end of April or beginning of May, says Mr. Coates.

“It’s a good way to hold everyone to account,” he said. “Transparency. There’s nothing else like it. Tell the truth, put the number out there,” he urged other candidates.  

If there’s a discrepancy in the numbers, then that will say a lot to Conservative members, he added.  

Mr. Hann said “there’s a lot of processing and reviewing that still has to happen” before the membership numbers can be released. This isn’t out of the ordinary, though, as he pointed to 2004, when the final membership number was not released until about two weeks prior to the leadership vote.

Mr. O’Leary says he has signed up more than 35,000 memberships. Mr. Bernier has not said how many new members he had signed up during the course of his campaign. Other candidates, like Erin O’Toole, are keeping those numbers to themselves as well.

Michael Chong says he signed up 17,000 new members. Kellie Leitch lays claim to 30,000-plus new members, and Lisa Raitt says she has signed up more than 10,000 new members. The numbers cannot be verified, and some have said they should be taken with a grain of salt.

When Mr. Hann was asked whether or not the party would be reviewing memberships as they came in for fraud, he said “the party regularly reviews memberships to ensure they are within our rules.”

cnash@hilltimes.com

@chels_nash

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