Conservative MPs say last week’s potentially explosive controversy around newly elected leader Andrew Scheer’s leadership vote numbers is no longer a problem after two top Conservatives briefed the national Conservative caucus on June 7.
Conservative MPs also say Dustin Van Vugt, executive director of the Conservative Party, and Derek Vanstone, deputy chief returning officer for the Conservative Party leadership election, should brief the Hill media too in order to put the story to bed.
The two answered questions from the national Conservative caucus after unsuccessful leadership candidate Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.), Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.), and Mr. Bernier’s supporters raised questions publicly about the final leadership vote numbers, setting off a political storm and creating the potential for a fatal blow to the party’s new leadership.
“There’s no information [shared at the presentation] that I’ve seen that couldn’t be shown to the media and actually it may help get rid of any concerns the media or Canadians might have,” said five-term Conservative MP Larry Miller (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, Ont.) in an interview with The Hill Times.
CTV originally broke the story, which was followed by The Globe and Mail last Saturday.
Businessman Kevin O’Leary who ran for the party’s top job, but who withdrew his leadership bid to support Mr. Bernier, demanded a recount of ballots cast for the leadership convention. He argued that a recount would clear any doubts about the final outcome.
“I see no reason we should not have a recount,” Mr. O’Leary told iPolitics last week. “There are a relatively few number of votes to count and I am sure that no leader of the Conservative party wants to start a new mandate under a vote count cloud.”
Mr. Miller and other MPs interviewed for this article declined to say what information was provided to the caucus, citing caucus confidentiality.
But sources told The Hill Times that both top officials explained the mechanics of the leadership election, the breakdown of the final election result, and addressed all concerns raised about the process by supporters of Mr. Bernier (Beauce, Que.). Mr. Van Vugt and Mr. Vanstone also answered questions from parliamentarians and shared what lessons the party has learned from this experience.
Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan, Sask.) suggested that Mr. Van Vugt and Mr. Vanstone should make a presentation to the national media, but said it’s up to the party to make the final decision.
“The party itself made a good presentation to our caucus members, went over the entire process,” said Mr. Lukiwski who supported Mr. Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) in the leadership campaign. “There was nothing that was presented to us that I believe should be kept under wraps. Our caucus certainly appreciated the presentation. If our party decided they wanted to brief the media, that’s not a bad idea, frankly.”
Mr. Lukiwski said he and his caucus colleagues found the presentation to be helpful in clarifying any doubts about the fairness of the voting process.
“Anyone who listened to that presentation, including defeated candidates, I think, all agreed that it was done in a very fair and open manner and there should be no controversy,” he said.
Mr. Lukiwski said the Conservative Party’s national council will likely make a similar presentation to party members at next year’s policy convention in Halifax, N.S.
Conservative MP David Tilson (Dufferin-Caledon, Ont.), who attended the presentation, said Mr. Bernier was present in the caucus meeting, but did not raise any concerns and did not ask any questions. Mr. Tilson said if Mr. Bernier had any questions and concerns, he should have raised those in the meeting. Based on the conversations in the caucus room, Mr. Tilson said, all MPs and Senators were satisfied with the explanations provided by the two Conservative Party officials.
“He [Mr. Bernier] was there, and he didn’t say anything,” said Mr. Tilson, who supported Michael Chong’s (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.) unsuccessful leadership campaign. “He certainly had an opportunity in caucus this morning, he was there and didn’t. As far as I’m concerned, it was a fair election and the most popular guy won.”
Shortly after the May 27 leadership convention in Toronto, some Bernier supporters raised concerns with the media about the final voting numbers announced by the party. Mr. Scheer won on the 13th ballot in a nail-biter by a margin of less than two per cent of the vote. The final tally was 50.95 per cent to 49.05 per cent.
Neither Mr. Bernier nor any of his campaign staff officially filed a complaint to the party alleging any irregularities in the process. CTV reported two weeks ago that some of Mr. Bernier’s supporters were questioning that, according to the party’s announcement, 141,362 votes were counted on May 27, but the lists provided to the leadership campaigns indicated that 133,896 party members voted, causing an unexplained discrepancy of 7,466 votes. They also questioned why the ballots were destroyed right after the leadership results were announced and why their scrutineers were not informed about the discrepancy in the final voting numbers.
Former Conservative MP Bob Dechert, who supported Kellie Leitch (Simcoe-Grey, Ont.) in the leadership election, also questioned in an interview with The Globe and Mail, why the Conservative Party never had the final results audited from the accounting firm Deloitte which oversaw the vote counting process.
Mr. Dechert, however, denied that the party “orchestrated the results in favour of any campaign.”
To vote for the candidate of their choice, party members had the option to mail in their ballot, go to one of the 13 polling stations set up by the Conservative Party around the country, or vote on site in Toronto at the convention on May 27. The party used the complicated ranked ballot system for the leadership election.
Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann, in an emailed response to The Hill Times last week, confirmed the party never received any formal complaint from any of the candidates about the voting process. He said the party is confident about the fairness of the process.
Mr. Hann explained that the discrepancy in the numbers was a result of “human error” from volunteers and because the in-person polling locations used paper lists. The lists sent to the leadership campaigns after the results were announced did not include the party members who voted in person, Mr. Hann said.
“The in-person polling locations across Canada were using paper lists, and not an electronic version, so those in-person voters would not have been included on the final list sent to campaigns,” Mr. Hann said. “The remaining discrepancy is human error from volunteers sometimes not correctly scanning some of the 130,000 declaration forms from mail-in ballots into our database, so it would sometimes not save properly, or create an error in the software that would have to be cleared to continue.”
Mr. Hann said that it was laid out in the rules that an independent auditor would verify the results which Deloitte did.
Referring to a statement from Dan Nowlan, chair of the Conservative Leadership Election Organization Committee, Mr. Hann said that an auditing company “would never audit a process like this.”
Moreover, Mr. Hann said hours before the results were announced, the party’s chief returning officer announced on national television that ballots would be destroyed following the announcement of results.
“The vote counts from each individual polling station and from the central count room were all disclosed in the results room with scrutineers from all campaigns, and I can confirm the party has received no formal complaints from any campaign regarding the voting process,” Mr. Hann said.
Mr. Bernier was not available for an interview with The Hill Times. And Conservative MP Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka, Ont.), a senior strategist for the Quebec MP’s leadership campaign, in a brief interview with The Hill Times, said that he supports Mr. Scheer. He did not take any specific questions regarding concerns raised by the Bernier campaign about the leadership election process, and referred all questions to the party.
“I’m going to leave it up to the party to deal with those questions,” said Mr. Clement. “I’m supporting Andrew Scheer in his leadership role and that’s all I have to say about that.”
In a tweet on Tuesday, June 6, Mr. Bernier said: “As I said on election night: I support our new leader Andrew Scheer. Unconditionally.”
John Reynolds, co-chair of the Bernier campaign, also declined to be interviewed for this article.
Tim Powers, vice chair of Summa Strategies, told The Hill Times last week that party officials such as Mr. Nowlan, Mr. Van Vugt, and Mr. Vanstone ran a fair leadership contest. He said the complaints from the Bernier camp appear to be out of frustration that they lost the contest which they thought they would win.
“This is much less to do with the way the leadership campaign race worked and more to do with people being frustrated that they didn’t win particularly when they figured they would,” said Mr. Powers. “And we’re talking about opportunities they hoped would be presented to them, it’s unfortunate.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Tilson said the controversy surrounding the last leadership convention is a good reason for the party to review using the preferential ballot system going forward. He said, based on his conversations with party members, most find it too complicated. Mr. Tilson said he personally likes delegate conventions and the party should undertake a review of this at the next policy convention.
“What the party needs to do is to review the whole election process,” Mr. Tilson said. “Have there been any defects, if there have been, how are we going to correct them? Is the whole process wrong? I’m one of those ones who still likes the old delegated conventions, more excitement to the party.”
Mr. Lukiwski said he also likes delegated conventions, but his concern is that it may not carry equal representation from all ridings across the country. Under the ranked ballot system, all 338 ridings across the country are weighted equally and have 100 points each in leadership elections. But Mr. Lukiwski said, considering extremely low membership numbers in some regions, some riding associations might not be able to elect maximum delegates allotted to each riding.
At the party convention in Toronto, several party members, including former Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, told The Hill Times the party should reconsider its leadership election rules for future leadership elections.
Former Conservative MP Joe Preston, a member of the national council of the Conservative Party, told The Hill Times in Toronto three weeks ago that after the leadership convention, the party would review the leadership election process. He said, after the review is finished, the party would be open to making changes going forward. Mr. Preston said all options are on the table and the party delegates will have an opportunity to decide at their policy convention if they want any change.
“There’s no doubt in my mind there’ll be discussion after we recap this went—what rules changes would make being Conservative easier,” said Mr. Preston, who represented the federal Ontario riding of Elgin-Middlesex-London from 2004 to 2015. “When we’re done, we’ll hear from the grassroots what they’d like to see change. Let’s wait and hear them.”
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