A former Liberal Party candidate for the Vancouver South riding says he was pressured to withdraw from the race because the party had a preferred candidate — Harjit Singh Sajjan — whom they wanted acclaimed.
In an exclusive interview with CBC News host Andrew Chang, Barj Dhahan said he was told by campaign co-chairs that the Liberals already had a candidate in mind for Conservative-held riding and that they would prefer him to run in Surrey Centre.
Dhahan contacted the CBC after his withdrawal from the Vancouver South race was raised during Chang's one-on-one interview with Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau last week.
"They weren't simply offering me to run in [Surrey Centre], they were saying that the nomination would be managed in such a way that I would be the sole candidate — essentially that I would be acclaimed," said Dhahan.
"I said it's a very interesting proposition, but I decline because Vancouver South has been home to my family for over six decades. ... I have no connectivity, no base in Surrey Centre."
Dhahan told Chang he believes other potential nominees would have been pushed out of the Surrey Centre riding to make way for him, in the same way he was pushed out of Vancouver South to make way for Sajjan.
Dhahan memberships audited
Dhahan claims that in addition to receiving his nomination package late, one of his volunteers was sent an email saying Dhahan's membership list was being audited.
"In the email, all it said was there were irregularities around addresses, names not matching, or telephone numbers not matching, possibly method of payment [discrepancies] ... no specific details," said Dhahan.
"There are at least 200 volunteers that are going about recruiting members, meeting people. So there can be clerical errors. Irregularities can happen. That's a normal thing in nominations. If the information to that effect was provided to us, which we asked for, we were willing to address this."
Dhahan says he does not know how widespread the alleged irregularities were because he never received a report.
Threats to tear up memberships
Some 30 Sikh Liberals told CBC News they and at least 4,000 members of the community would be tearing up their party memberships after Dhahan dropped out of the race.
However, Justin Trudeau told Chang in a one-on-one interview last week that only three people from the Vancouver South riding have left the party since April.
Dhahan insisted these were not an empty threats.
"Memberships expire December 31 every year. So those 3,500 to 4,000 who signed up to support me, watch and see what happens upon renewal time. How many will renew their memberships and how many will come out during election time to support the Liberal Party of Canada?"
Trudeau stands by 'open' nominations
When questioned about the Vancouver South race, Trudeau denied accusations that his party is undemocratic and said he is "extremely proud" of his party's open nomination process.
"There is a clear process that people have to go through and Barj made a decision to withdraw from the race," Trudeau told Chang.
"Any time you have a competitive situation like politics is, there are winners and there are people who don't win and their supporters can sometimes be very emotional."
Dhahan says he believes Trudeau's commitment to open nominations across the country is "genuine."
"However, what happens in the provinces in certain ridings — he may not be aware of what is going on," said Dhahan.
Dhahan made clear Trudeau never directly suggested that he drop out of the Vancouver South race.