It was supposed to be a fresh start for a newly united Conservative party, but instead, since naming its new leader, a growing list of complaints suggests a malaise around that leadership vote.
One former Conservative cabinet minister who never received his ballot calls it a “fiasco.” Other party members have concerns about who got their hands on personal data. Some in the camp of runner-up Maxime Bernier have been raising questions about the integrity of the vote itself.
Now, one particularly outspoken former candidate — Kevin O’Leary — is even demanding a recount.
And while a senior Conservative said while there may be room for “tweaks,” the party is standing by the overall process which saw record membership sign ups and voter turnout.
“I’m extremely happy with the way this went off,” said Dan Nowlan, chair of the party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee.
That’s not how at least one party stalwart sees it.
Jay Hill has been involved with the Conservative movement since the 1980s. He was an MP for 17 years and a government House leader and whip under Stephen Harper. He said he contacted the party three times but never received a ballot.
Hill, who endorsed Bernier in the race, believes thousands of party members are in the same boat and called the whole situation a “fiasco” in Facebook posting.
As CBC News reported the day before the vote, Conservative MP Diane Watts only received her ballot at the last minute and knows others in B.C. her riding experienced similar problems.
And Deepak Obhrai’s campaign tells CBC News the candidate’s own daughter had to contact the party to get a ballot couriered to her at the 11th hour so she could vote.
Nowlan said he had also heard of instances where people didn’t receive their ballots in time.
“Frankly, it’s disappointing if any member who wanted to vote didn’t get a chance to vote and that’s definitely something we should look at for the future. We need to fix that.”
One possibility would be to change the party’s constitution to no longer require a mail-in ballot, said Nowlan. He’d like to see the leadership committee have options such as online voting and other technologies when the next vote is held.
Concerns about numbers
Perhaps the most serious concerns raised about the vote come from Bernier’s campaign. As first reported by the Globe and Mail, Bernier’s camp has raised concerns about a discrepancy in the final ballot count. They point to a difference of about 7,000 votes in the number of ballots the party said were cast and the list of voters given to the various campaigns before the weekend convention.
However, there has been no official complaint to the party yet.
Nowlan said he is confident in the process.
“The party did Hurculean efforts to make sure that every member was in fact a bona fide member that had paid for their own membership. So the membership list to start off with is very, very clean.”
He said the lists were not an integral part of the party’s process, rather the focus was on the ballots themselves. Nowlan points out they were constantly under scrutiny from auditing firm Deloitte, scruntineers from the various campaigns and webcams.
O’Leary calls for recount
Kevin O’Leary is going even further.
“I see no reason we should not have a recount. There are a relatively few number of votes to count and I am sure that no leader or the Conservative party wants to start a new mandate under a vote-count cloud,” said O’Leary in an e-mail to CBC News.
That’s not possible, said Nowlan. Once the party’s chief returning officer and auditing firm Deloitte signed off on the results, a recount could no longer be done. Dozens of scrutineers were also able to raise issues during the vote count itself.
“That’s it. No appeal. It’s very clear in the rules,” said Nowlan, noting those rules have been in place for well over a year.
Investigation still on-going
Nowlan said he is concerned about a third party gaining access to the Conservatives’ membership list. On Friday, it was revealed the National Firearms Association had obtained the list.
The party’s chief returning officer, Dave Filmon, is still investigating to find out who was behind that leak. All 14 leadership candidates have denied responsibility to CBC News.
“Frankly, we don’t want to name somebody unless we’re absolutely 100 per cent sure that the evidence clearly points to it, but if we have that evidence, yeah, we’ll definitely identify who that is.”
Nowlan said there have been no other complaints about inappropriate access to the list.