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The federal Conservative Party has appointed the CEO of the Toronto Port Authority, a federal agency, as its candidate in Halton in a bid to unseat Tory-turned-Liberal MP Garth Turner in the coming general election.

The widely rumoured appointment of Lisa Raitt was confirmed last night at a closed-door meeting of the Halton Conservative Riding Association, which was told immediately before the meeting of the national party's decision.

Ms. Raitt said earlier this week that she received permission from the port authority board of directors to take an unpaid leave of absence as soon as the writ is dropped, which is expected tomorrow. If she is not elected, Ms. Raitt says she would immediately return to her job at the port.

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For the past decade, Ms. Raitt has worked for the port authority, which has been locked in a lengthy political battle with the city of Toronto over flights by Porter Airlines from the agency's downtown airport.

City councillor Adam Vaughan, whose Trinity-Spadina ward includes the airport, denounced Ms. Raitt's decision to return to the agency if she loses.

"It's deplorable," he said. "She should resign outright."

Though her appointment by the party came without a formal nomination process by the riding association, Ms. Raitt said, "I had great support from the people in the room and I know they will work with me on the campaign." The mother of two children, aged seven and four, Ms. Raitt said she became a member of the Conservative Party about a year ago. "I like [Prime Minister Stephen]Harper. I think we need a strong voice."

Mr. Turner, the incumbent Liberal, said "the real victim in this riding is democracy," adding that he knows a "small but active" group of Conservatives is unhappy with the process of Ms. Raitt's selection.

Riding association president Will Stewart said he expects "a hard-fought contest," but predicts that Ms. Raitt will unseat Mr. Turner.

"We're no strangers to defeating turncoat incumbents," he said.

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In the 2006 election in Halton, Mr. Turner, a former Mulroney Conservative cabinet minister, defeated Liberal Gary Carr, a former provincial Tory MPP.

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