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Retiring transport minister Chuck Strahl (Chilliwack-Fraser-Canyon), seen here in Ottawa on Thursday, February 3, 2011. (Pawel Dwulit/ The Canadian Press/Pawel Dwulit/ The Canadian Press)
Retiring transport minister Chuck Strahl (Chilliwack-Fraser-Canyon), seen here in Ottawa on Thursday, February 3, 2011. (Pawel Dwulit/ The Canadian Press/Pawel Dwulit/ The Canadian Press)

Tories lament mad dash to place candidates in B.C. Add to ...

A frantic scramble to have all its B.C. candidates in place by the middle of the week has cost the federal Conservatives at least one hopeful and caused another to bemoan the lack of time to campaign.

"The process is certainly quicker than desirable," said candidate Ernie Charlton, as he mounted an 11th-hour phone drive to rally support ahead of the party's hastily called nomination meeting Monday evening in the riding of Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon.

"No one would think that this reflects well on the democratic process."

With barely more than a week between calling the meeting and the actual vote, there was almost no time for candidates to meet constituents, said Mr. Charlton, a former riding executive.

Even his nomination just barely scraped in ahead of last Friday's deadline, set at 5 p.m., Ottawa time.

Jason Cox was not so fortunate. Federal party officials rejected his nomination to seek the party nod in Okanagan-Coquihalla because it came in late.

"The paperwork didn't arrive in time. It got stuck somewhere," said Mr. Cox, a former Conservative riding president.

"I had to drop everything for three days to send it off, but the fates decided my package wouldn't sail with luckier stars, I guess, so I'm out. I'm disappointed. The timeline was extremely difficult to meet."

The mad dash to have candidates in place was set off by the March 12 announcement that three long-time, prominent Tory incumbents would not seek re-election, coupled with the prospect of an election resulting from the Conservatives losing a budget confidence vote later this week.

"It was not a local decision. The national party makes the rules," said Matthew Barker, chairman of the Chilliwack riding's candidate committee. "They wanted things expedited."

Menno Froese, B.C. representative on the Conservatives' National Council, said party organizers wanted Tory candidates chosen in all 36 B.C. ridings by the time Tuesday's federal budget is brought down.

All three main federal parties agree this province will be a pivotal battleground in the next election. The Conservatives hope to boost their number of B.C. seats to 27 from 22, enough to help put them over the top to form a majority government.

Party nomination meetings were scheduled Monday night to replace retiring Transport Minister Chuck Strahl (Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon) and outspoken Conservative backbencher John Cummins (Delta-Richmond East).

Mr. Strahl's 32-year-old son Mark ran against Mr. Charlton to carry the Conservative standard in Chilliwack, while four candidates were in the running to succeed Mr. Cummins in Delta-Richmond East.

When the ballots were tablulated Monday night, the younger Mr. Strahl secured the nomination, and will now run to succeed his father as Conservative MP for the riding.

Delta school board chair Dale Saip won the nomination battle to run for the Tories in Mr. Cummins' riding.

In Okanagan-Coquihalla, where Treasury Board president Stockwell Day is stepping down, separate meetings are to be held Tuesday in Merritt and Penticton to select a replacement from among three local Conservative aspirants.

By the end of the day, Mr. Froese said the Tories will be short a candidate in one riding, Vancouver Centre. That's where Rachel Greenfeld recently resigned because she said she would not agree with a request from party officials to commit to run in two consecutive elections.

"We're ready to go," Mr. Froese said. "Some candidates have already rented offices and put in phone banks."

Glen Sanford, B.C. campaign manager for the NDP, said the New Democrats have nominated candidates in 32 ridings so far.

The federal Liberals also have 32 candidates in place.

In the 2008 election, Conservatives took 22 seats in B.C., the NDP nine and Liberals five.

Editor's Note: Chuck Strahl is the federal Transport Minister. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story. This online version has been corrected.

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