Edmonton

Edmonton-Meadows UCP directors slam appointment of candidate Len Rhodes

The Edmonton-Meadows UCP constituency association is disappointed with Jason Kenney’s decision to appoint Len Rhodes as the party’s local candidate, according to a memo signed by 14 members of the board.

Board members 'neither consulted about nor notified' of decision, memo says

UCP Leader Jason Kenney (right) didn't consult or notify the directors of the Edmonton-Meadows UCP constituency association before appointing candidate Len Rhodes (left), according to a memo signed by 14 directors. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Fourteen members of the Edmonton-Meadows United Conservative Party constituency association say they weren't consulted or notified before Jason Kenney appointed Len Rhodes as the party's candidate in the riding.

In a memo to UCP executive director Janice Harrington, the directors say "thousands of conservatives" in the new southeast Edmonton riding were denied the right to choose their candidate.

The memo says the directors were "neither consulted about nor notified" of the appointment.

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"Our expectation was to be treated equally with all other United Conservative Party members in constituencies across Alberta, and to choose our candidate through a fair, open, contested nomination," says the memo, which was obtained by CBC News.

Kenney used his leadership powers in late February to appoint Rhodes, the former Edmonton Eskimos CEO and president, bypassing a local nomination contest.

Three candidates — Arundeep Singh Sandhu, Joel Mullan and Sant Sharma — had been vying for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Meadows.

Mullan and Sharma both attended a Feb. 21 news conference announcing the appointment of Rhodes, who lives in St. Albert. Sandhu has said Kenney and the UCP leadership no longer have his support.

Shannon Berry, one of the directors who signed the memo, told CBC News she found it "mind-boggling" that Rhodes was appointed the candidate.

"You don't let three other people start running campaigns, and putting out effort, and doing all the membership selling, and all the things that go into that, just so that [Rhodes] can walk in as some sort of superstar and just be acclaimed and tell everybody else to suck it up, buttercup," Berry said.

"It was mind-boggling to me that anybody could think that conducting this type of political appointment in this manner could be in anyway considered appropriate."

Riding president approached party, Kenney says

At a news conference in Canmore on Thursday, Kenney said the party was approached by constituency association president Dave Purewal about the appointment.

"[Purewal] told us that he thought the majority of the board supported the decision," Kenney said. "Clearly, not everybody did."

Kenney said he is committed to open and democratic nominations, but said — as he did when he announced Rhodes' appointment — that the party gave the leader power to appoint four candidates in unique circumstances.

"This was such a circumstance. We had one of the top civic and business leaders in Edmonton who stepped forward, willing to participate in our effort to get our province back to work."

Kenney said the president of the constituency association told him the majority of the directors supported the appointment of Len Rhodes the UCP candidate in the riding. (Jason Kenney/Facebook)

CBC News spoke with Purewal on Wednesday. He declined to be recorded in an interview. On Thursday, he did not respond to further interview requests.

Berry said an emergency board meeting was called for March 2. The memo was presented at the meeting and signed by 14 directors, Berry said.

"I had no intentions of supporting anybody that was from outside our riding, let alone just having our party leader step up and just tell us who that's going to be," she said.  

Party says it hasn't seen memo

The party had not received the memo as of Thursday, said UCP director of communications Matt Solberg. He declined to provide CBC News with a list of current Edmonton-Meadows board members, citing privacy concerns.

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Rhodes has said he doesn't believe his St. Albert residency will hurt his electoral chances. Kenney reiterated his support for Rhodes on Thursday, saying he could play "a major role in a future government."

"It was a difficult decision, but the right one for Edmonton and I think for Alberta and a prospective future conservative government," Kenney said.

Edmonton-Meadows UCP board member Jagwinder Singh Sidhu said he "didn't agree with anything in the letter" and stood behind Kenney's decision.

He said he signed the memo only after including a note that the decision to appoint Rhodes "could have been done sooner."

"Nobody is bigger than the party," he added in an interview. "What we think is the best for our party has happened."

'Take one for the party'

Sidhu said he understood the other nomination candidates were disappointed but said they "had to be bigger people and take one for the party."

Arundeep Singh Sandhu, the former Edmonton-Meadows nomination candidate, met on Sunday with supporters who called Kenney's decision undemocratic and accused Rhodes of parachuting into the riding.

Former Edmonton-Meadows UCP nomination candidate Arundeep Singh Sandhu said leader Jason Kenney has lost his support. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

On Wednesday, Peter Sandhu, an Edmonton-Meadows director and former Progressive Conservative MLA, said he was "shocked" to learn about the Rhodes appointment.

Kenney's decision contradicted his stated commitment to the party's grassroots, Sandhu said.

"When Kenney ran for the leadership, he promised the grassroots would be respected. In this case, I feel like the grassroots has been ignored."

While Sandhu said he has reservations about the appointment process, he said Rhodes would be a good candidate.

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About the Author

Jordan Omstead is a reporter with CBC Edmonton.

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