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Politics Ontario PCs must overturn nomination races plagued by voter-fraud complaints: officials, activists

Vic Fedeli speaks at a press conference after a caucus meeting at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives need to overturn every nomination race plagued by complaints of voter fraud and broken rules, say senior party officials and activists.

Interim Leader Vic Fedeli ordered a review of the disputed nominations as part of his plan to "root out the rot" in the party before a successor to Patrick Brown is chosen on March 10. The party announced Friday night that the provincial nominations committee unanimously decided to hold new races in just two ridings – Ottawa West-Nepean and Scarborough Centre.

The party has been thrust into a leadership race following the departure of Mr. Brown on Jan. 25 amid allegations of sexual misconduct with two young women. In a lengthy Facebook post on the weekend, Mr. Brown said he can disprove the accusations. "I will clear my name," he vowed.

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Richard Ciano, a former president of the party, said there were documented problems in many more than two nomination races. "None of those nominations were given anything even remotely resembling a fair appeals process," Mr. Ciano said.

Of the 56 competitive nominations the PC Party has held to date in the run-up to the June 7 provincial election, nearly one in four have ended in controversy, a Globe and Mail tally has found. The tally excludes 14 ridings where candidates were acclaimed.

The nominations committee has not explained why it has called for new nomination races in only two ridings. Ken Zeise, co-chair of the committee, did not return messages.

Joe Reis, a Progressive Conservative campaign organizer who is backing Doug Ford's leadership bid, questioned how the committee members could overturn nominations in two ridings while ignoring others that were just as egregious.

"They should have looked at all the cases where there was some kind of problem or they should have looked at none," Mr. Reis said. "To cherry pick is not right."

In Ottawa West-Nepean, a majority of the riding association board members quit last June over allegations of ballot-box stuffing. But they were not alone.

The riding association's board of directors in Newmarket-Aurora wrote to the provincial nominations committee last April, appealing the nomination of Charity McGrath. The letter says her election was "tainted by a blatant breach" of the nomination rules, according to a copy obtained by The Globe.

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Derek Murray, former president of the association, said the board hired a company to conduct a phone survey of party members in the Newmarket-Aurora riding. Of the 287 people who responded, half said they had not signed an application to be a member of the party or paid the $10 fee.

The board resigned en masse after the appeal was rejected. Mr. Murray said he is disappointed that the provincial nominations committee has once again declined to overturn the nomination.

"The new interim leader said that the rot would be cleaned out," Mr. Murray said. "Well, he may have cleaned it out in the party's head office, but he didn't clean it out up here."

In Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, Vikram Singh, a lawyer and runner-up in the nomination race last May, sued the PC Party, alleging that widespread ballot-box stuffing torpedoed his bid. But he announced on Jan. 24 in a joint statement with Mr. Brown that he was withdrawing his lawsuit.

"On the evidence that has been provided to me, I now accept that PC Party officials, staff and volunteers were dedicated to achieving the fairest result for the Hamilton community, and can no longer maintain that there was any untoward behaviour on their part," Mr. Singh says in the statement.

However, there is an ongoing criminal probe into allegations of fraud at the nomination meeting.

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Following complaints over several nomination races, the party hired auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers to monitor future nomination meetings. Mr. Brown said at the time that nomination meetings that had already occurred prior to June 3 would not be challenged.

Tory MPP Randy Hillier criticized the lack of transparency around the provincial nominations committee, saying he has been unable to obtain a complete list of its members and whether they were impartial in deciding the fate of the disputed races.

"How do you have faith or confidence in a system that is completely secretive," Mr. Hillier asked.

Jim Karahalios, a Cambridge lawyer and activist, said the executive of the party must take responsibility for "the mess" created during Mr. Brown's leadership by reopening all the disputed nominations.

"You can't arbitrarily pick two ... and sweep the other ones under the rug," he said.

The newly appointed interim leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives, Vic Fedeli, says he won’t be entering the race to be permanent leader. Fedeli says he needs to dedicate his time to fixing the party's internal problems. The Canadian Press
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