Riding membership fractured and disenchanted after Skelly acclamation, letter says

A Hamilton-area riding association president wrote a scathing letter to the Ontario PC party in September warning that its nomination shenanigans were going to cost them the riding. Local Tories, he says, are moving on now and rallying behind Skelly.

Hamilton riding president wrote a scathing letter to the Ontario PC party over the decision

Donna Skelly hugs campaign manager Grant MacLean after her 2016 win in a city council byelection. Skelly is now running in Flamborough-Glanbrook, although her acclamation took party faithful by surprise. Former association president John Demik says local Tories are moving on and rallying behind Skelly. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A Hamilton-area riding association president wrote a scathing letter to the Ontario PC party in September warning that its nomination shenanigans were going to cost them the riding.

John Demik, then-president of the Flamborough-Glanbrook provincial PC association, said in the Sept. 8 letter that the association only learned second hand that Donna Skelly would be acclaimed.

Demik wrote Skelly's surprise acclamation was embarrassing and had created a fractured and disenchanted membership.

Two other loyal members — Nick Lauwers and Dan Sadler — wanted to run. They'd been fundraising and selling memberships for a year

"I hope you can appreciate that the party's actions have only made a victory more difficult in what should be a safe seat for us," Demik wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the CBC.

When he learned Skelly would be acclaimed, party faithful Dan Sadler posted to his website saying politics was more like House of Cards than he realized. (dansadler.ca)

"Yourself, the (provincial nominating committee) and the party need to be more forthcoming and learn to communicate better with boards and riding associations."

Demik addressed the letter to then-executive director Bob Stanley, who has since been fired. Former party leader Patrick Brown and provincial president Rick Dykstra have also resigned. On Friday, the party's nomination committee said it would hold new nominations in Ottawa West-Nepean and Scarborough Centre.

Demik says Flamborough-Glanbrook members are moving on now and rallying behind Skelly.

But the riding was one of two Hamilton nominations under Brown that seemed to exasperate and anger some members.

In Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, police are investigating allegations of fraud and ballot-box stuffing at a nomination meeting last May. Ontario's Ministry of Attorney General has also asked the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to handle the case to avoid any appearance of political interference.

In that race, two of the four would-be candidates — Vikram Singh and Jeff Peller — asked Brown to review the nominations, saying party tampering caused them to lose and Ben Levitt to win.

Instead, Brown certified all nominated candidates not long after, and hired Pricewaterhousecoopers to oversee nomination meetings.

Singh and Peller have since dropped their court challenges. 

Demik confirmed Friday that he wrote the letter on behalf of the Flamborough-Glanbrook association board.

"There should have been better communication between the executive director and riding associations in general," said Demik, who is a board member but no longer president.

Fences have since been mended, Demik said, and he's optimistic about the June election.

"Donna's been very proactive in involving and reaching out to those that felt the process should have been done differently," he said. "Everything seems to be in good shape."

The party said in a statement Friday that the new leadership is "committed to strengthening every single aspect of the party to make sure that it's got the best possible relationships with local grassroots riding associations."

Skelly is a Ward 7 city councillor who has run for the PC party twice before. Skelly's municipal campaign manager, Grant MacLean, is now chief financial officer of the Flamborough-Glanbrook association.

Flamborough-Glanbrook is a newly drawn electoral district. (Elections Ontario)

In the September letter, Demik said the association was still waiting to hear when its nomination would be when it was told Skelly would be the candidate.

Demik said Friday that there are some contested nominations that should be revisited. But Flamborough-Glanbrook is ready to move forward.

"Everyone's had their time of reflection."

Judi Partridge, a Ward 15 city councillor, is running for the Liberals in Flamborough-Glanbrook. The NDP and Green Party websites do not yet list candidates for Flamborough-Glanbrook.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca