Chris Kennedy, the perceived front-runner in the Conservative Party of Canada nomination race for Brandon-Souris, had his application rejected by the party, as did Brandon city Coun. Len Isleifson. This left Arthur-Virden MLA Larry Maguire as the acclaimed candidate for the party. (SUBMITTED)
It’s tough to be a federal Tory in these parts.
Well, unless you’re a supporter of the surprise Conservative byelection nominee, Larry Maguire, who emerged after last weekend as the uncontested candidate for the spot in the as-yet unplanned Brandon-Souris tilt.
Even veteran politician Maguire seemed a bit shocked by the sequence of events that started immediately following the Tory party’s cut-off date for applications.
The seat was vacated after Merv Tweed resigned in August to pursue an opportunity in the private sector.
The Tories have had a stranglehold on Brandon-Souris since before and after the right- wing divide of the early and mid-’90s, which saw the Canadian Alliance and Reform Parties split the right vote.
The right even lost the seat for one term in 1993 to Liberal Glen McKinnon. But generally speaking, the historically unified Progressive Conservative Party and the currently unified Conservative Party of Canada win this seat handily by anywhere from 9,000 to 13,000 votes over the runner-up.
So that’s why it was pretty much a given that the Tory nominee for this riding would be our next MP, even if Jesus Christ himself were running for the fringe Christian Heritage Party.
The real byelection for us folks south of a rough east-west line from Elkhorn through Rivers and a rough north-south line from Carberry to Cartwright would have been in the Tory nomination process and what was promising to be a good old nomination meeting in a crowded room with lots of gentle arm-twisting and hard promises being made among maybe 1,000 or many more card-carrying party members.
But after some extremely suspicious and very disappointing backroom shenanigans by the Conservative Party of Canada, the heir to the throne and very likely your next MP is Maguire. Like it or not.
And as one senior local Tory — clearly a Maguire supporter — told me this week: "It’s done, get over it."
Sorry, I’m not going to get over it.
I’m mad as hell and I’m going to explain why anyone interested in democracy and fair play should be as well.
First off, this column is not intended to be an attack on Larry Maguire.
The veteran politician and current (until the byelection is called ) MLA for Arthur-Virden has always been a straight-shooter. I worked with him briefly at the Manitoba legislature and have had frequent contact with him over the years.
Maguire was named mid-Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmer in 1986. His Wikipedia profile states he was twice elected as the Canadian Wheat Board Advisory Committee’s Western Manitoba representative.
Maguire served as president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association from 1995 to 1999. He won a contentious PC Party nomination for Arthur-Virden in April 1999 and was elected to the legislature that year.
He has sat in the Opposition benches ever since, rising as high as deputy leader.
And I had a 30-minute chat in person with Maguire this week.
I also spoke at length with rejected Tory candidate Chris Kennedy and had a shorter talk with the other dismissed Tory hopeful, Brandon city Coun. Len Isleifson.
Maguire, in his mid-60s, states he hopes to win the byelection and then seek the nomination again (riding boundaries will be redrawn, forcing a new nomination) to run in the next general election in perhaps 2015.
I have no reason to believe Maguire was directly involved or had knowledge of any of the dirty behind-the-scenes manoeuvres. Including when a local party official quickly stated last weekend that Kennedy and Isleifson’s applications were incomplete as of the deadline of 5 p.m. Sept. 11 Ottawa time.
Don’t ask, don’t tell? Plausible deniability?
Maguire says he was as surprised as the two rejected candidates and their supporters to hear the news last weekend.
"As of five o’clock Ottawa time on Wednesday, there was only one set of documents," nomination committee member D’Arcy Barker told the Sun last Saturday.
"Once we reviewed the documents of (Isleifson and Kennedy), we determined that not all the criteria were met."
Isleifson actually tried to avoid the party mud by attempting to make it clear late Friday that he was withdrawing from the race.
However, the ruthless Tory machine nonetheless insisted on rolling over Brandon’s deputy mayor with the statement made Saturday.
Isleifson insisted repeatedly to a Sun reporter that he had more than the minimum 25 signatures of local party support needed and said there were no issues with his application with the party.
"The process was followed," he told the Sun. "There were no issues. The real issue was making sure I was doing the right thing."
Barker’s comments came as a surprise to Isleifson, the city councillor for Riverview.
"I’m going to be totally honest with you. As far as I’m concerned, there was no issues with my application," he said last Sunday morning. "My campaign team followed everything D’Arcy said to the T ..."
While Isleifson has been a longstanding active member of the provincial Tories, he hadn’t been a member for very long with the federal party.
Nowas is done over and over in nomination bids, any political party can use its discretion to allow candidates to bend the rules a bit — to help candidates qualify. This is what Isleifson said he was told and what Barker also told the Sun.
"A candidate-nominee is constitutionally required to be a member of the Conservative Party of Canada for six months prior to a nomination meeting. The candidate nomination committee can waive that requirement in circumstances of condensed timelines (such as during byelections) or minority governments falling on non-confidence votes," Barker wrote in an email to the Sun.
"Prospective candidate-nominees, when they submit their application for candidacy to the committee, are required to secure the signatures of 25 party members from the riding."
However, Isleifson has a promising political career as either a candidate for Brandon mayor in 2014 or running for a provincial constituency in 2016, he figured he’d simply walk away.
Then there’s the case of the presumptive winner of the nomination battle, Chris Kennedy, former executive assistant to MP Merv Tweed.
Kennedy, 29, is just the type of fresh face and smart character that Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was looking for in his government when he shuffled his cabinet a few months ago. But instead of encouraging youth and vibrance, the party has decided to go with experience and stability.
Kennedy does admit he was pushing the deadline when he sent his package by courier overnight to Ottawa on Tuesday. But he also maintains his application was complete — in every way.
"I’m very shocked and disappointed and a lot of other things," Kennedy told the Sun on Monday, after an emotional weekend trying to come to grips with what I can only characterize as a betrayal by the party he so dearly believes in.
"It hasn’t even sunk in yet … If there was something that I did maliciously or … misled anybody then that’s a different story, but that wasn’t the case here."
Kennedy said he was told by the party that his nomination application didn’t include his $1,000 deposit cheque, a requirement for all candidates.
"Whether I agree with that is another question," he said. "So that’s the reason I’ve been given as to why I’m not a candidate."
Kennedy looked me square in the eye this week and said he recalls filling out the cheque and had another person in the room see him do it.
He says he can’t believe he then forgot to staple it to the application form.
Then earlier this week, insiders started to float another theory. If you don’t believe the missing cheque allegation, then his application arrived late. The morning after the Wednesday night deadline.
Again, I return to what the local Tory party official said about some flexibility in "condensed timelines" and the longstanding tradition of actually helping promising candidates be allowed to wage a nomination battle.
After all, it’s better for any party when it appears that they have several good people wanting to work for it. Acclamations are unhealthy and they send a bad message to the public.
And not only did the party not bend a hair in the case of Isleifson and Kennedy — if it even had to — it took the unusual step of holding a rushed meeting on Friday night to interview Maguire and recommended to the national nomination committee that he be accepted for the nomination.
And none of this was made public until the Sun asked.
But I digress.
Back to Kennedy and the so-called missing cheque. Last week, he again looked me straight in the face and said he has searched his house high and low and not found the allegedly missing cheque.
But Kennedy said he will have to accept what happens — he doesn’t have to like it — as he has further political aspirations.
The Souris native says he will take a hard look at running for the provincial Tories in the Arthur-Virden byelection, as he knows many people in the southwest corner of the province from his years travelling with Tweed and helping deal with the issues in the region.
I was stunned to learn of the post-Sept. 11 events. I have heard of backroom fixes being done previously — ask former DauphinSwan RiverMarquette MP Inky Mark, who alleges only nomination contestant Robert Sopuck was recognized by the party, despite other Conservatives wanting to run.
Sopuck is now the MP.
But I never thought the CPC would be so bold to make such a blatant move in Brandon-Souris — my backyard.
The CPC has decided who our next MP will be. The party denied Tory members the chance to have a fair and democratic nomination race and meeting where the hundreds, if not a couple of thousand, party members could vote.
There are currently many, many disenfranchised Tories in Brandon-Souris and beyond. They are disenchanted, confused and angry.
Kennedy, a promising pol with some great new ideas and plenty of internal support from Tory ministers and influential (read: wealthy) party members will now chart another course.
That’s a big loss for the greying Harper government, which is in a pitched battle against the youth-infused NDP’s Orange Crush and the hopelessly charismatic Justin Trudeau and the revitalized Liberal party.
As the youngest member of Parliament, Kennedy could have been on a fast track from the back benches towards the front, with Brandon-Souris reaping the benefits of his profile and increasing power.
Again, nothing against Larry Maguire. I’m just stating the cold, hard facts here.
Maguire will be one of those pleasant fellows who maybe gets to make a member’s statement prior to question period every once in a while.
But there are plenty of older, experienced politicians with rural ag roots in the Tory caucus.
It’s doubtful we’ll hear much from Maguire once he gets settled in against the vintage wood panelling in the back row on the government side of the house.
Geez, I’m getting angrier as I write this.
As a former member of the provincial Tories (when I worked for them) and a veteran right-winger in the bloodsport of politics, I am ashamed of the shenanigans which have beset the Conservative nomination process in Brandon-Souris.
And I’m not alone. I hear memberships are being returned to the Tories from people who are also just seething over the injustice.
So I’m supposed to believe that Isleifson — the deputy mayor of Brandon — is lying?
Or am I supposed to believe that a man as smart as Kennedy, who quit his job and was for the past month driving hundreds of kilometers each day and had a solid and star-studded campaign team to bolster support and sell memberships for his nomination run, is lying?
And what about the statement regarding flexibility in "condensed timelines" made by Barker, the local nomination committee member. Was that a lie?
Or am I supposed to believe that the Conservative Party of Canada has lied?
And what do I make of Maguire’s handlers, several of whom are young former Westman political operatives who now work in Toronto and Ottawa?
In fact, it was one of those operatives, former Brandonite Drew Ostash, who personally flew to Ottawa to hand-deliver a bundle of memberships Maguire’s team had sold.
Of the situation, Maguire said publicly last week: "All I can say is what I heard from my people."
This is not about Maguire.
I believe he is a pawn in this whole slimy game.
So what’s left to do?
Well, I simply won’t be voting for the Conservative Party of Canada. Again, this isn’t because I don’t like Maguire or trust he would try to represent Brandon-Souris as best as he can.
I was going to flip a coin at this point in the column and declare who I will vote for. But that could just help split the left and centre-left vote, allowing the Tories to simply slip through.
So I’m going to go with the party I think has the momentum and with who I can actually stomach a little.
So that rules out the socialists. The federal party sucks about as much as the provincial counterpart.
I’m going to hold my nose and vote Liberal. The lone candidate with that party now is Rolf Dinsdale.
I’ve met Dinsdale and he seems to be a nice fellow. He even suggested we go for a beer, so that makes him even a better guy in my books.
In any event, the fix was in for the Tories in the Brandon-Souris nomination.
Now I’m going to find a way to personally protest that injustice.
And I’ve never endorsed a candidate before, but these are extraordinary circumstances.
Vote Liberal! And turn out to meet Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau when he comes to Brandon this Tuesday. Look for details in the Sun about his itinerary.
And it wouldn’t be a stretch for the Liberals to come close or even win this seat.
Liberal Glen McKinnon did so in 1993 — the only time in 62 years the riding hasn’t gone blue.
Sure it was at a time when the right was split with the Reform Party and Progressive Conservative parties.
In that election, a younger Larry Maguire was running for the federal PC Party. He finished third behind the Reform candidate and the Liberal victor.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 21, 2013