Varinder Bhullar has ended his run for the federal Liberal nomination in the riding of Edmonton-Mill Woods, saying that, 10 months after he was given the green light, he received an e-mail telling him he had been disqualified and could no longer call himself a party candidate.
The party says some of the 1,200 memberships Mr. Bhullar brought in were found to be fraudulent. He contends he was pushed aside so a candidate favoured by the party's leaders could run uncontested.
"Once they couldn't bribe or threaten me out, they tried to bully me out by convincing the local board to kick me out of the race. It was dirty tricks. I said that a nomination race was the best way to go," he said.
The messy nomination battle is the among other troubled races that have led some to challenge Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's claim the party has an open nomination process. In November, David Bertschi's candidacy was blocked in the Ottawa-area Orléans riding. Andrew Leslie, a retired Canadian Forces lieutenant-general and star Liberal candidate, was acclaimed.
In Vancouver South, a local businessman dropped out amid reports that Mr. Trudeau's team favoured a retired military officer. In a by-election last year in the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina, one candidate was blocked from running and another dropped out when he said it became clear the party wanted local councillor Adam Vaughan to win.
An e-mail sent to Mr. Bhullar on Jan. 16 from Katie Telford, the Liberal national campaign chair, says the decision to disqualify Mr. Bhullar was made due to "significant concerns" about his membership material, and could not be appealed.
"When Mr. Trudeau is talking about justice, I don't think not letting someone appeal within the party is justice," Mr. Bhullar said.
Mr. Bhullar, a manufacturing specialist at an Edmonton pharmaceutical company, has lived in Canada for 23 years. He served for a decade as the secretary and vice-president of the Liberal constituency of Edmonton-Mill Woods.
Mr. Bhullar said he was approached by a Liberal senator and provincial MLA in December, 2013, to run in the riding. By March, he had signed up hundreds of members and received the party's green light after an exhaustive background check.
The first hiccup, he said, came only weeks later, when he received a survey call at home. The automated call asked him how likely he would be to vote for Edmonton city councillor Amarjeet Sohi if he was the riding's Liberal candidate. Mr. Bhullar said he thought nothing of the call at the time.
In June, Mr. Bhullar said, he met with a senior Liberal official who told him the surveys showed Mr. Sohi would be a better candidate, and he was asked to resign.
"He offered me Edmonton-Wetaskiwin and said he'd make me the Liberal vice-president for Alberta. He promised to raise my profile and acclaim me," Mr. Bhullar said. "When I didn't agree to his terms, he told me that he had 'orders from above' and that he would do anything in his control to have the party's preferred candidate elected."
Mr. Bhullar said he rejected the offer, and at a second meeting was offered a political position within the Liberal Party, but told the official he was "not for sale."
A spokesman for the Liberals could not confirm Mr. Bhullar's allegations, but could only say that his name will not appear on the Liberal ballot. A source within the party told The Globe and Mail "of all the membership checks the party did, Mr. Bhullar's was the worst, with the most fraudulent cases we have seen so far."
Mr. Bhullar said he was told only nine memberships were found to be fraudulent. He says he is innocent and wants an appeal in which he can ask each individual whether they remember paying for the $10 Liberal membership. He contends that people often buy members when approach by volunteers and can forget they did so.
On Wednesday, Mr. Sohi confirmed he is running for the Liberal nomination in the riding and had been approached by the party. He said the issue surrounding Mr. Bhullar's allegations, "is a matter pertaining to dispute between Mr. Bhullar and the Liberal Party of Canada and I have no comments."