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b.c. politics

The official B.C. Liberal membership list shows Olympia Marie Wawryk joined the party on Dec. 14, paying $10 for the privilege of casting a ballot for the next premier of British Columbia later this month.

But the record is fuzzy on one key detail: Olympia is rather fuzzy herself, in a feline way.

Olympia is a cat and belongs to Kristy Wawryk, a senior volunteer in the Christy Clark campaign - who was a little hazy herself on just how Olympia came within a whisker of getting a personal identity number and the right to vote rights in the Feb. 26 election.

"It's a family member of mine," said Ms. Wawryk - who is also the BC Liberal riding association president for Delta South - when asked if she had recruited Olympia. She identified Olympia Wawryk as a great aunt who lives with her at her Ladner, B.C., residence.

In fact, the cat is the only one answering to the name Olympia at her house, while her great aunt Marie lives in Vancouver. The Clark campaign, responding to questions from The Globe and Mail, has since asked the BC Liberal Party to rescind Olympia's membership and explained that Olympia's listing was a prank of which Ms. Wawryk was unaware.

But the incident underscores concerns that the party is not adequately vetting the thousands of new members signed up in recent weeks as a result of the leadership contest.

With six leadership candidates in the race, the party expects to have at least 35,000 new members before the cutoff at 5 p.m. PST on Friday. Candidate Mike de Jong announced on Thursday that his campaign alone has recruited 10,000 new members in recent weeks, and at least three other camps will also be bringing in large numbers of fresh recruits.

Responding to concerns raised by one of the leadership camps, BC Liberal Party president Mickey Patryluk promised "a number of systems" to ensure the validity of the new members. An outside auditor has been hired to oversee the leadership vote; restrictions were imposed so that no more than four family members can be signed up on a single credit card; and membership correspondence is being mailed to the applicants' homes.

Chad Pederson, executive director of the party, said Olympia's membership card would have been mailed to the Wawryk residence some time ago, but he said he believes the party would have smelled a rat before the vote.

"This membership was flagged because it did not have full contact information," he said. "For ones without phone numbers, they would have to be mailed for additional contact."

Shane Mills, a spokesman for the Clark campaign, said Ms. Wawryk, who handles Ms. Clark's scheduling for the leadership race, misspoke when interviewed about the cat. He said she was "rattled" by the questions about Olympia, and "mortified" to learn about the bogus membership. "We have asked the party to delete the membership, it's gone."

Mr. Mills said a friend of Ms. Wawryk's signed up the cat without her knowledge. "Clearly people shouldn't be doing this as joke," Mr. Mills added.

Joel de Guzman said he mailed in Olympia's membership application as a prank and planned to tell Ms. Wawryk, after the leadership vote. However, he said he didn't really expect the party would give the cat a membership.

Asked who he thought Olympia might have supported, he replied: "I don't know. Cats are kind of fickle."

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