mark-cp-939268

Former Manitoba MP Inky Mark, seen in 2001, is unhappy with how the Conservative Party handled the process of nominating his replacement. ((Wayne Glowacki/Canadian Press))

A former MP says he and other Conservatives in his Manitoba riding are upset with how the party handled the nomination of his replacement.

Inky Mark's former seat in Dauphin–Swan River–Marquette, which he held for 13 years, is up for grabs in a federal byelection on Nov. 29.

Mark said in an interview that he purposely announced he was leaving a year early so the party would have time to hold a competitive nomination process.

Instead, only nomination contestant Robert Sopuck was recognized by the party, despite other local Tories wanting to run.

Mark said he complained about irregularities in the process to his Manitoba caucus colleagues at least twice.

"After spending over 13 years in the riding, not allowing the membership base to have a say in who should replace me is just not right, and not one of [my fellow MPs] … would utter one single response," he said.

"If you believe in democracy of any kind, it's just not right."

Former riding president Wayne Mathison had intended to throw his hat into the ring but met with roadblocks along the way.

In the summer of 2009, a party worker told Mathison to hold off on starting the nomination process after Mark announced he was leaving.

That August, the party used an automatic dialer to call local Conservatives and tell them nominations were open for 21 days. It did not send any of the usual candidate nomination kits along. The person named as a local contact was away on holidays, according to the riding association's own account.

Mathison and many others in the riding never received the party's automatic call. The nomination deadline came and went, and Sopuck was acclaimed by the party as the Conservative candidate in the riding.

"I kind of think that Ottawa itself was so worried about an election going on that the proper process was kind of small in the big view, so when things went wrong it didn't get corrected and so it continued going wrong," Mathison said.

Current president Brian Chita, who could not immediately be reached for comment, launched an appeal of the process on behalf of the local Conservative board.

In a letter sent to local party members last fall, later obtained by The Canadian Press, Chita called it "a process that failed to follow our party's candidate nomination rules, thereby limiting your opportunity to take part in the process."

Decision stands, party says

The party and its governing national council stood by the decision to acclaim Sopuck as the candidate.

"The Conservative Party of Canada will not be reopening the nomination process in Dauphin–Swan River–Marquette," Jenni Byrne, director of political operations wrote to Chita in November 2009.

Sopuck did not immediately return a call for comment.

Conservative Party spokesman Fred Delorey said all rules were followed for the nomination process and that elected members of the national council had a chance to weigh in.

"This is a standard process that we have. We use it in every riding in the country," he said.

"This was reviewed afterward by national council as well — our democratically elected national council in which a Manitoba councillor sits on the board — and they all agreed it was fine, that the nomination process was fair and that Mr. Sopuck was nominated under the rules of our party."

Party members in Dauphin–Swan River–Marquette are not the first to complain about the party's handling of nominations.

The Simcoe-Grey Conservative riding association battled with party headquarters over alleged interference in the process to replace ousted Tory MP Helena Guergis as its candidate. 

And earlier this year, 19 members of MP Rob Anders's Calgary riding association resigned, citing interference from party brass. Many have called for a nomination process to challenge Anders.

Three years ago, the party reached a settlement with an Ottawa lawyer who sued for libel after officials denied they had made a deal with him to step aside in favour of a star candidate.