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Treasury Board President Stockwell Day speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Dec. 8, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Treasury Board President Stockwell Day speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Dec. 8, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Gary Mason

The rewards of politics: It all starts with the nomination Add to ...

While no one would suggest that federal politics offers an easy life, it can certainly present some rich rewards.

The base salary of nearly $160,000 isn't bad. Get into cabinet and you can tack on another $75,000 a year. Then there's a nice housing allowance, and don't forget the pension plan. So if you manage to win the nomination for a party in a riding in which it's the perennial pick of voters, you've landed yourself a plum job.

Say a riding such as B.C.'s Okanagan-Coquihalla, which was first contested in 1997 and has been held by Conservative MP Stockwell Day since 2000. Before that, it was James Hart of the Reform/Canadian Alliance party.

And after the next election, it is likely to be represented by one Dan Albas, a Penticton city councillor who won the Conservative Party nomination Tuesday night.

Not everyone is thrilled about it. Some party members believe the nomination process favoured a few hand-picked associates of Mr. Day. (Mr. Day reportedly told the Prime Minister in December that he wouldn't be running again.) The three who got their nomination papers in on time all had some connection to the former Tory cabinet minister.

One was Marshall Neufeld, Mr. Day's parliamentary secretary for more than two years before he returned to B.C. in 2008. Rusty Ensign is a member of Mr. Day's constituency association board, as are Mr. Albas and Mr. Neufeld. Meantime, the MP's constituency assistant, Doug Sharpe, resigned to take on the role of riding association president and to manage the candidate selection process.

Some party members believe all three candidates knew in advance of Mr. Day's March 12 announcement that he wasn't seeking re-election. And they include at least three party members who wanted to seek the nomination but didn't get their papers in on time.

Dietrich Wittel, a long-time party member, received an automated call last Wednesday from Mr. Sharpe saying that there was going to be a nomination meeting on March 22 and that anyone interested in running should call a number left in the message.

Mr. Wittel, a naturopath with offices in Kelowna and Penticton, wasn't able to get any information from the party until the next day. He was told there was a 50-page questionnaire to be filled out, an RCMP criminal record clearance to obtain and 25 signatures from party members supporting his application. And it had to be in Ottawa by 5 p.m. Friday.

Lorne Beloud and Sean Upshaw, who were also interested in seeking the nomination, ran smack up against similar time restraints.

"It was impossible to provide what they wanted in that short a period of time," Mr. Wittel said in an interview. "I couldn't get the RCMP criminal check, a bank account established with a financial officer or the 25 names. Another day and I might have been able to. The people who were able to get their materials in had to have had a head start."

What the three didn't know was that the nominations actually opened Monday. Jason Cox discovered this when he happened to walk into the local party office last Tuesday. "Doug [Sharpe]told me they opened the day before," said Mr. Cox, who also missed the application deadline because his package of materials got held up by Canada Post.

Mischa Popoff, former fundraising chair for Mr. Day, is so outraged he's resigning from the party. "This is a clear abuse of the electoral process," he said Wednesday. "Dan Albas wins the nomination and democracy is officially DOA here in Okanagan-Coquihalla.'"

There have been concerns expressed elsewhere about the fairness of the Conservatives' hurry-up nomination process. With all that's at stake, there has to be a better way to choose the people who represent us in Ottawa. The nomination process needs to not only be fair but seen to be fair.

In Okanagan-Coquihalla, at least, it doesn't look like it was.

Editor's note: Marshall Neufeld was Stockwell Day's parliamentary secretary for more than two years before he returned to B.C. in 2008. Incorrect information appeared in print on March 24 and in an earlier version of this online article. This version has been corrected.

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