Two national anti-abortion groups are raising concerns about Pierre Poilievre’s leadership after the federal Conservative party upheld the disqualification of a candidate for a party nomination in Ontario although he was backed by five MPs.
Gerrit Van Dorland’s supporters in the southwestern Ontario riding of Oxford included Leslyn Lewis, a two-time candidate for the leadership of the Conservatives.
His recent disqualification from the race was allowed to stand after it was reviewed at a weekend Conservative national council meeting. Over the weekend, the council voted 11-3 to uphold an earlier decision by the party’s national candidate selection committee, party communications director Sarah Fischer said in a statement on Monday.
Ms. Fischer said Mr. Van Dorland, who has worked as an executive assistant in the House of Commons, was disqualified because of a failure to disclose required information during the candidate application process and that the recommendation for disqualification was first made by a local candidate nomination committee. Ms. Fischer did not elaborate in her statement and did not respond to questions about whether Mr. Poilievre played a role in the decision.
Mr. Van Dorland’s website cites his commitment to the values of faith, family and freedom. Among his pledges to supporters is to “stand up for the dignity and sanctity of human life.” His campaign did not respond on Monday to a request for comment.
Jeff Gunnarson, the national president of the Campaign Life Coalition, said Monday that the decision was a “slap in the face” to the party’s social-conservative base, and criticized Mr. Poilievre for not defending party members from that wing of the conservative movement.
The national coalition advocates for socially conservative issues and had endorsed Mr. Van Dorland for the nomination. Dave MacKenzie, a former police officer in the city of Woodstock, had held Oxford for the Conservatives from 2004 until he retired this January.
In the 2021 federal election, Mr. MacKenzie won the riding with 47 per cent of the vote, compared with 20.5 per cent for the Liberal candidate.
Mr. Gunnarson said his organization will monitor how other anti-abortion candidates are treated in future nominations, and campaign for Mr. Poilievre’s removal as leader if they are poorly treated, he said.
Meanwhile, the RightNow organization, a political anti-abortion organization, said Monday the situation involving Mr. Van Dorland has prompted an effort to begin widely canvassing current and former anti-abortion MPs, and members of the national council and others in the Conservative party to figure out how to approach the next federal election.
Earlier, spokesperson Scott Hayward had said RightNow would rally Conservative Party members to oust national council members seeking re-election to their positions, who did not support Mr. Van Dorland’s reinstatement.
Mr. Hayward said Monday that any lack of support for anti-abortion members for the Conservatives in specific ridings would likely not end well for the party.
Mr. Gunnarson said that while social conservatives want the ouster of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mr. Poilievre will hand the federal Liberal Leader another term if he alienates the Conservatives’ social-conservative base.
Mr. MacKenzie, the former MP, said the activism of anti-abortion groups could harm Conservative prospects in the riding by persuading supporters to stay home, allowing other parties to effectively compete for the seat.
In an interview, Mr. MacKenzie said he had known Mr. Van Dorland for a long time, and suspects he would have been a hard candidate to beat for the nomination.
Mr. MacKenzie expressed concerns that Mr. Poilievre, who is a member of the national council, has endorsed Mississauga lawyer Arpan Khanna, which he sees as inappropriate.
He also noted that Mr. Poilievre is quoted on Mr. Khanna’s website as saying, “Arpan is a hard worker, a great Canadian story, an entrepreneur, a successful lawyer and a family man who is leading the charge. I am so inspired by the story he brings.”
Mr. MacKenzie’s daughter Deb Tait, a veteran local politician, is also seeking the nomination.
Mr. Van Dorland was backed by a five Conservative MPs: Ms. Lewis, from Ontario, as well as Alberta MPs Damien Kurek and Tom Kmiec as well as Saskatchewan MPs Rosemarie Falk and Jeremy Patzer.
In a tweet, Mr. Khanna said Mr. Van Dorland should be reinstated to appear on the nomination ballot.
Candidates approved by the party to continue in the nomination process are to participate in a March 24 event where they will deliver speeches. The next day, party members will vote on the candidate.