Nineteen members of Calgary West MP Rob Anders' riding association have resigned en masse, citing interference from the Conservative Party.
The 32 member board had been planning to ask Conservative Party members at the riding's upcoming annual general meeting whether they wanted to hold a nomination contest. But the party's national council stepped in, saying it has already declared Anders as the candidate for the next federal election, and has threatened to take control of the annual general meeting of the constituency association.
Anders said Thursday the resignations were overdue.
"A lot of these folks were at odds with the party and didn't want to play by the rules with the rest of the team," he said. "So this allows us now to focus on party building exercises, fundraising, preparing for the next election."
Michele Austin, one of the few remaining Tory board members, said she has sympathy for those who want an open nomination process but believes the timing just isn't right.
"We have a sitting candidate, a sitting MP," she said. "We're trying to win a majority, the Conservatives are, and I'm hoping that's something we can do. And you know ... ousting a sitting MP is risky business especially when you're in a minority."
A total of 24 people have resigned from the Calgary-West riding association board in the past year and Austin expects at least one more person will quit within days.
Don Hatch is one of the board members who resigned.
"We haven't acted improperly in anyway," said Hatch. "We've been supportive of the party, we've been supportive of our Member of Parliament and ... to have anyone suggest we have done otherwise is quite frankly offensive to me."
The federal party is not commenting on the issue, but Anders described it as a distraction because he is already the party's declared candidate.
Last year, Anders successfully fought off a campaign to oust him. That came after the federal Conservative Party decided that the only way incumbent MPs can be pushed out of their ridings is if two-thirds of constituency members vote to hold a nomination race. No riding hit that mark so all sitting Conservative MPs, including Anders, were declared candidates for the next election. But Anders' supporters lost control of the riding's board of directors, which oversees nominations.
Anders was first elected to Calgary West as a Reform MP in 1997.