Last week, Justin Trudeau found himself coming under not-particularly-friendly fire from aggrieved party members over his party's move to bar former Liberal candidate Christine Innes from contesting the nomination to fill the now-vacant federal seat in Trinity–Spadina.
On Monday morning, it looked like Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be setting himself for an outburst of similar complaints after providing what was being billed as his official backing to Calgary West MP Rob Anders, who is currently battling former Alberta provincial finance minister Ron Liepert for the right to represent the party in the newly created riding of Calgary Signal Hill in 2015.
A news release posted to Anders' just-launched nomination campaign website claimed that Harper had "endorsed" the chronically controversial incumbent MP, although the comments attributed to Harper didn't seem to be quite as unequivocal as the headline might lead one to believe.
"Rob Anders has been a strong voice in our caucus and Conservative government as well as a valued member of our team," the release quoted the PM as saying.
"The Road to 2015 is one that needs strong, stable leadership and I've been able to count on Rob to get real results for his riding and our country."
Notably absent from the PM's testimonial was the word "endorse" — or, for that matter, "nomination" — but Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann assured CBC News that it "reflects the Prime Minister's views about his caucus member."
The release also included praise from Anders' caucus colleague, John Williamson.
Contacted by CBC News to confirm that he was, in fact, endorsing him in the nomination race, Williamson was happy to elaborate on his testimonial.
"(Anders') repeated contributions to our weekly caucus discussions are principled, as he dependably promotes lower taxes, spending discipline and conservative-oriented solutions," he explained via email.
It's fair to say that the notion of the prime minister himself explicitly endorsing candidates — particularly in hotly contested ridings like, for instance, Calgary Signal Hill — could be seen by those not fortunate enough to earn such favour as somewhat contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the party's commitment to a wide-open nomination process on the road to 2015.
Whether or not that same thought may have occurred, albeit retroactively, to the prime minister himself is unknown, but at some point during the day on Monday, the news release, and all references to his ostensible endorsement, disappeared from Anders' website.
The quotes from Harper and Williamson still appear on the "What's New" page, but there is no longer any suggestion that their words constitute a formal endorsement.
I've asked the party to clarify whether Anders was asked to take down the initial release, and will update this post as soon as I hear back.
UPDATE: It's back! A return visit to Anders' website reveals the original release has been restored in its entirety, prime ministerial endorsement and all:
PM HARPER ENDORSES ROB ANDERS
March 24th, 2014
Prime Minister Stephen Harper endorsed MP Rob Anders, today, for the Conservative Party of Canada nomination for Calgary Signal Hill.
Prime Minister Harper said:
"Rob Anders has been a strong voice in our Caucus and Conservative Government as well as a valued member of our team. The Road to 2015 is one that needs strong, stable leadership and I've been able to count on Rob to get real results for his riding and our country.”
“The people of Canada and Prime Minister Harper need a Member of Parliament who will work with the Prime Minister and the Conservative Caucus to fight to keep taxes low for hard-working families and to make our streets safe,” said former national director of the Canadian Tax Payers Federation and MP John Williamson. “Rob Anders is a veteran member and his repeated contributions to our weekly caucus discussions are principled as he dependably promotes lower taxes, spending discipline and conservative-oriented solutions.”
“Prime Minister Harper knows that I will always fight against tax-and-spend liberals like Ron Liepert and his good friend, Alison Redford.” said MP Rob Anders.
Since first forming government in 2006, Rob Anders has voted for over 160 tax cuts, including lowering the GST from 7% to 6% to 5%. But when he was Alison Redford’s Finance Minister, Ron Liepert talked about introducing a provincial sales tax in Alberta, increasing the gasoline tax, and he told the Canadian Press, "I will not rule out tax increases” (CTV News, April 17, 2009).
"Harper Conservatives in Calgary Signal Hill have a clear choice. They can choose a valued member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Caucus who fights to cut taxes for Canadian families, or they can choose Alison Redford's former campaign manager and best tax-and-spend friend, Ron Liepert.”
In other Calgary — Signal Hill Conservative nomination news, my CBC Calgary colleagues report that Liepert is accusing the Anders campaign of making misleading phone calls to putative voters asking who they intend to support.
"They received calls Friday night, both identifying themselves as the Conservative Party of Canada and the Ron Liepert campaign, asking how they were going to vote on the nomination," he told CBC News.
"The tactic they took, frankly, is one that is not only underhanded, and clearly despicable, but I believe, is against the law."