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Dimitri Soudas answers questions in Riviere-du-Loup, Que. on April 20, 2011. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Dimitri Soudas answers questions in Riviere-du-Loup, Que. on April 20, 2011. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Resignation of top Conservative gives hope to blocked candidates Add to ...

After Conservative Party executive director Dimitri Soudas resigned amid questions about his role in his partner’s nomination race, would-be Conservative candidates in other ridings are hoping they’ll get a second chance after seeing their own nomination candidacy rejected.

Though he pledged not to get involved in the race involving his partner Eve Adams, Mr. Soudas nonetheless was tasked to played a key role in other races across the country. He was responsible for assessing candidate applications in other nomination battles, a process that included an interview and questions, in one case, about past Liberal support and the oil sands.

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In at least three ridings where Conservative nomination races have opened so far, Mr. Soudas rejected one or all of the candidates hoping to challenge an incumbent Conservative MP, offering varying degrees of explanation. The candidates each argue there was no valid reason to be rejected by Mr. Soudas – and that the rejections, in essence, protect incumbents from challenges even though the party had pledge “fair and open” nominations.

Now, with Mr. Soudas gone, some of those candidates are hoping for a second chance.

“It hasn’t changed anything yet. We hope it will,” one prospective candidate, real estate agent Puma Banwait, said of Mr. Soudas’s departure.

Mr. Banwait and another challenger, entrepreneur Buta Rehill, had filed papers to challenge incumbent MP Devinder Shory for the party nomination in Calgary Skyview. Both were “disallowed” by Mr. Soudas, and are now appealing the decision. If they are refused again, Mr. Shory will be acclaimed as the candidate without a vote.

“They just open up the nomination and they knew right from the beginning that they were going to disallow everybody. Give me a valid reason why,” Mr. Banwait said. He said he was asked, during the candidate interview, about a donation to a past Liberal candidate (one he doesn’t recall making, but which is included in Elections Canada’s database) and supporting another Liberal provincially. Mr. Banwait says he’s always backed the federal Conservatives and was surprised by the questions. He said he was also asked his perspective on the oil sands during the interview with the party.

Despite all the questions, however, his letter didn’t specify why he was rejected, he says.

Mr. Rehill said Monday he does not know whether Mr. Soudas’s departure will boost his chances.

“It’s hard for me to say whether this will make a difference, but certainly I’m hoping this will be a positive decision for me,” he said.

In the riding of Calgary Signal Hill, Mr. Soudas also rejected Dan Morrison, one of two candidates who filed papers to challenge incumbent MP Rob Anders for the nomination. The other challenger, former Alberta finance minister Ron Liepert, was approved.

Mr. Morrison said he was rejected on technicalities – according to Mr. Morrison, the party says his deposit cheque came from an ineligible account, rejected one of his signatures and said a follow-up signature was sent by fax, not e-mail, and wasn’t accepted on time.

“It begs the question: why?” Mr. Morrison, a high school teacher and former president of Mr. Anders’ constituency association, said of his rejection. “There was no character issue here. It was a technicality, that they decided on paper they would make it an issue for me.”

He’s also hoping to be added to the nomination ballot after Mr. Soudas’s departure, as Mr. Morrison continues to press the party for details of why his candidacy was rejected. “If they put me on the ballot, I stand a chance to win this thing… I know a lot of people who are going to stay away from voting because I’m not in it – and that’s not an open nomination, by the way. When you’re discouraging people from coming out and voting, that’s not open. You’re manufacturing an end result,” he said.

The chances, however, appear slim. A nomination date of April 12 has already been set, meaning the nomination in Signal Hill is already under way and appears set be one between Mr. Anders and Mr. Liepert, with Mr. Morrison remaining on the sidelines. He’s nonetheless pushing to be included.

There’s little sign Mr. Soudas’s departure will change fortunes. One Conservative source said “the rules are very clear” on nominations and candidate applications can be rejected for any number of errors. Candidates who are disallowed by the party’s National Candidate Selection Committee can appeal to the national council – “it’s all done by committee, not by the Executive Director,” the source said. It was, however, Mr. Soudas who signed the letters to candidates who were disallowed.

In the new riding of Brampton Centre – near the current riding of Ms. Adams, Mr. Soudas’s partner – Mr. Soudas also rejected three prospective challengers, effectively handing the nomination to junior cabinet minister Bal Gosal.

Mr. Gosal said in an interview that all three of his challengers incorrectly filled out their applications. “There are certain requirements they have to fill out, for the forms, and they didn’t meet the requirements,” he said. Asked if the moves amounted to Mr. Soudas protecting incumbents, he replied simply: “No.”

Mr. Soudas resigned Sunday after questions swirled about his role in Ms. Adams’ campaign for the nomination in the new riding of Oakville North – Burlington, where they moved last year. Party officials complained that he was overstepping his bounds in the race, particularly after he dismissed a party operative in the region who complained the situation was putting him in an untenable situation. No longer bound by his party duties, Mr. Soudas is now said to be preparing to campaign full-time for Ms. Adams, his live-in partner and fiancée, for the nomination.

Simon Thompson has taken over as interim executive director of the Conservative Party.

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