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Conservative MP Trost almost expelled from party over alleged membership leak, says campaign manager

Some members of the Conservative leadership election organizing committee 'don’t like' Brad Trost or social conservatives, says Trost campaign manager Joseph Ben-Ami.

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer and Conservative MP Brad Trost, who came in fourth place on the first ballot. The Conservative Party has fined Mr. Trost's leadership campaign $50,000 for allegedly leaking a party membership list to the National Firearms Association. The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright

PUBLISHED : Monday, June 19, 2017 12:00 AM

A key individual in Brad Trost’s leadership campaign says some “rogue elements” in the Conservative Party Leadership Election Organizing Committee “don’t like” the Saskatchewan MP or social conservatives, and considered throwing him out of the Conservative Party for allegedly leaking the party membership list to a gun-advocacy group—an allegation his camp denies.

In the end, the Conservative Party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee, headed by Dan Nowlan, decided against it at the June 8 meeting, for not wanting to appear to be “too extreme,” according to Joseph Ben-Ami, who managed Mr. Trost’s (Sasktoon-University, Sask.) campaign.

“It was backed by some people in LEOC [to kick Mr. Trost out of the party]. I guess, it was voted down to be too extreme,” he said.

“I’m not going to name names,” Mr. Ben-Ami added. “Let me put it this way: there are people in LEOC who clearly do not like Brad Trost. And the meeting on 8th of June, from all of the information that we’ve been able to glean from our different sources, it was a pretty serious railroad job, and my understanding is that certain people on LEOC were actually even pushing for Brad to be kicked out of the party. You can only imagine what kind of an eruption there would be from Brad supporters if that would happen.”

  

In the Conservative Party’s leadership election that concluded on May 27 in Toronto, Mr. Trost’s campaign that ran on the social conservative values, surprised political insiders across the country by coming in fourth on the first of 13 ballots, and rising as high as third on the ninth.

Mr. Ben-Ami said the party has accused the Trost campaign of leaking the party membership list to the National Firearms Association. He said the party has not provided his campaign any evidence and his campaign has conducted internal review which indicated that the Saskatchewan MP’s campaign is not behind this leak.

The Trost campaign, however, has been fined $50,000 by LEOC in relation to this allegation. All 14 leadership candidates made $50,000 compliance deposits to the party to enter the contest, and all were supposed to receive their deposit back by Thursday, June 15. Mr. Trost’s campaign did not receive their money back.

Veteran party organizer Joseph Ben-Ami managed Brad Trost’s leadership campaign. Photograph courtesy of Joseph Ben-Ami

“I don’t know what the evidence is,” said Mr. Ben-Ami, adding that organizing committee made this decision on June 8 and the Trost campaign was not given any opportunity to make a presentation to the committee in its defence.

  

He said the only information the Conservative Party provided to the campaign was that the party used a “salting” process to determine who leaked the party membership list. What this means is that when the party provided party membership lists to the 14 leadership campaigns, each were given a unique selection of fake names in order to trace potential leaks.

But Mr. Ben-Ami, a veteran political organizer and a former senior Hill staffer, said the “salting” process has been used by political parties for decades. He said he and his campaign workers knew that the lists provided to individual campaigns were “salted.” He said this leadership campaign was not his or his campaign team’s “first trip to the rodeo,” and if they really wanted to leak the list, there are appropriate steps he could have taken to avoid any detection.

Mr. Ben-Ami said that the Trost campaign is considering several options, including legal action, filing an appeal to the party, and reach out to thousands of supporters of the Saskatchewan MP and other party members to share how they’ve been treated by the party.

“I have no qualms to say we’re not backing down,” Mr. Ben-Ami said. “We’re accused of something we’re not guilty of, and the process’s been very, very poorly handled. There was no evidence presented.”

  

The Conservative Party declined a comment for this article, saying the process is ongoing. It added that the 21 members of organizing have stayed neutral throughout the process.

“This is still something that is in our leadership-rules compliance process, and no final decision has been made yet,” Cory Hann said in an email to The Hill Times.

Mr. Hann did not say whether the party withheld any compliance deposit of any other leadership candidates. In February, the party fined businessman Kevin O’Leary’s campaign $10,000 for missing a party-organized, bilingual leadership debate in Edmonton.

The Conservative Party’s 21-member leadership election organizing committee is chaired by Mr. Nowlan. Other members include Jai Bhatti, Stewart Braddick, Lois Brown, Gary Clement, David Connelly, David Filmon, Diane Finley, Marc-Olivier Fortin, Julie Gaudreau, Irving Gerstein, Rohit Gupta, Loyola Hearn, Peter Jelley, Michael Lauer, Chris Lydon, Cameron MacKeen, Sam Magnus, Richard Plain, Nancy Strand, and John Walsh.

Mr. Ben-Ami said this issue has not been brought to new leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) because this dispute is with the LEOC, which was set up after the 2015 federal election. He said Mr. Trost and his supporters are loyal to Mr. Scheer, but the way LEOC has treated Mr. Trost could hurt party unity.

“Brad is happy with Andrew and he’s loyal and so are all of us who were on the campaign,” said Mr. Ben Ami.

“This whole thing is damaging for the party. I don’t think it helps Andrew as he tries to keep the party united and focus on moving forward.”

Pollster Greg Lyle told The Hill Times he did not believe any backlash from the Trost campaign would have any negative affect on the unity of the Conservative Party. He argued that this dispute is between the party and Mr. Trost’s campaign, and Mr. Scheer has no role in this. Excluding this issue, Mr. Lyle said the new leader did not say or take any extreme position during the leadership election to alienate any candidate.

“[Mr. Scheer] was careful in this campaign not to poke the other candidates too aggressively,” said Mr. Lyle. “So, there’s not a lot of hard feelings between him and other candidates. If someone who was more polarizing in terms of their policies, he would have a harder time. I don’t think it will be all that difficult for Andrew Scheer.”

Conservative MP David Tilson (Dufferin-Caledon, Ont.) said in an interview with The Hill Times that Mr. Scheer should hold one-on-one meetings with all 98 caucus members. In these meetings, he said, the new leader should discuss with other leadership candidates and MPs what shadow cabinet positions they are interested in. Also, he said Mr. Scheer should seek MPs’ ideas on how to make the party successful in the next election.

“He needs to talk to people, he needs to talk to everybody, all of us, all sitting Members on the phone or see us personally, which I think he will,” said Mr. Tilson who supported Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.) in the leadership campaign.

Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu supported Andrew Scheer in the Conservative Party leadership contest. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Rookie Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu (Sarnia-Lambton, Ont.) said that the party is united under Mr. Scheer’s leadership. In the coming weeks, she said the new leader would meet with individual MPs in person and has already started a cross-country tour that will go on in the summer. Ms. Gladu said in these travels, Mr. Scheer is meeting with Canadians “from coast to coast to coast.”

Ms. Gladu, who supported Mr. Scheer in the leadership campaign, said she doesn not believe the Trost campaign’s dispute with the party would have any detrimental affect on the party unity.

“The party is dealing with it,” Ms. Gladu said. “I think party members would be unified in saying that list of party members is a secret list, it’s not to be distributed. It did get leaked. We need to find out how it got leaked and make sure the appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

arana@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times