Membership fraud allegations nothing new in Tory leadership race, says strategist

As federal Conservative leadership candidates snipe at each other over alleged vote-buying fraud, The Current panellists share their thoughts on what's going on with the conservative movement in Canada.
Kevin O'Leary alleged 'widespread vote rigging' in the Tory leadership race. After an investigation, the party removed 1,351 names off the membership list. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

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Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary's allegations of "widespread vote rigging" have resulted in the party striking more than 1,300 memberships from its list after a review found they'd been purchased inappropriately.

Media reports suggested O'Leary was accusing fellow candidate Maxime Bernier's team for the fraud. O'Leary maintains he'd made no allegations against his fellow candidate.

Bernier shot back, calling O'Leary, "a loser," with his team alleging campaign wrong-doing at O'Leary's camp.

With 14 people in the federal leadership race, things are heating up.

But as Tim Powers, a former Conservative party adviser and vice-chair of Summa Strategies, points out, none of this is new.

"It's standard practice that one candidate will allege this about another," Powers tell The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

As part of the leadership election organizing committee in 2004, he says allegations of improper voter signups were made then too. 

Powers explains what O'Leary and Bernier are trying to do is position themselves with potential new supporters who are with different candidates and "this is part and parcel of the journey."
Maxime Bernier is one of 14 candidates running for the Conservative Party leadership. (Canadian Press)

"God forbid I advance a conspiracy theory … but if Mr. O'Leary doesn't win, he can also argue if he loses with his head held high that 'Oh my goodness it was rigged against me and I tried my best.'"

According to national affairs columnist for the Toronto StarPaul Wells, "just about every party concedes its leadership races as membership drives."

But he says there's not much persuading to convince existing long-standing members to change their minds.

"There's much more effort to sign up naive new members by the bucket load because there's more people who haven't thought about politics in Canada than those who have," Wells tells Tremonti.

"As soon as you define your goal as signing up the largest number of new members, it takes substantial self-restraint to do it all properly. And the list of failings is numerous."

O'Leary's approach to present himself as a front runner is puzzling to University of Calgary professor David Stewart who tells Tremonti it's "not something you really do if you're way ahead."

"This is something you do when you're behind and you're looking to get publicity and you're looking to change the nature of the race."

"So for Mr. Bernier I would say this is rather encouraging at some level that O'Leary has launched this kind of attack and raised these kinds of concerns."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and Steph Kampf.