Supporters of former UCP nomination candidate rally after Kenney's 'unfair' appointment
Former Edmonton Eskimos CEO Len Rhodes appointed as Edmonton-Meadows UCP candidate last month
Edmonton-Meadows constituents are rallying behind former UCP candidate Arundeep Singh Sandhu after Jason Kenney used his leadership powers to bypass the local nomination contest.
Sandhu said he campaigned for nearly a year to be the United Conservative party candidate in his home riding of Edmonton-Meadows. Last month, he watched Kenney appoint former Edmonton Eskimos president and CEO Len Rhodes as the candidate.
On Sunday, Sandhu met with dozens of supporters from the Punjabi community at a banquet hall in southeast Edmonton. Supporters repeatedly called Kenney's decision undemocratic and accused Rhodes of "parachuting" into the community.
"It's fundamentally unfair. It's not healthy for democracy," said Gurpreet Gill, a local lawyer and UCP member who organized the meeting.
'My first loyalty is to my community'
Sandhu said he received assurances from Kenney before launching his campaign that the nomination was open and there was no preferred candidate. Kenney has not reached out to him since the announcement, Sandu said.
"As long as Jason Kenney is leader, I can't support him or his leadership team," said Sandhu. "We'll see what happens today with the community's advice and where they stand on this issue. We'll be moving forward with them, because, as always, my first loyalty is to my community."
Sandhu said he was able to recruit more than 2,500 supporters during his campaign. He questioned whether Rhodes, who lives in St. Albert, could duplicate his lifetime of connections in the riding in a matter of weeks or months.
"This is a labour of love. This is an opportunity to serve the community that I grew up in and the people that I feel raised me," he said.
Rhodes accused of 'parachuting' into Edmonton-Meadows
Edmonton-Meadows resident Nav Singh said he first started talking with Sandhu during his run for Edmonton city council in 2016. Singh said he used to back the NDP, but joined the UCP to support Sandhu.
"It was Arundeep who brought our group into the UCP because we liked this guy. It was him who brought us to the party because we know he can do a lot better for this community," said Singh, one of many speakers at Sunday's rally.
Local community and faith leaders, including representatives from the World Sikh Organization and Punjabi Cultural Association of Edmonton, made up most of the supporters in the crowd.
Singh accused the UCP of leveraging Sandhu's connections to boost membership, only for Rhodes to come "parachuting" into the riding. He said he would support Sandhu if he decided to run as an independent candidate.
"We know where to get a hold of Arundeep . . . we can get a hold of him if we need our MLA," he said. "But where are we going to find Len Rhodes?"
Kenney said appointing Rhodes was in the best interest of the party. He made the announcement on Feb. 21 alongside the president of the local constituency association and the two other candidates who had been vying for the nomination in Edmonton-Meadows — Joel Mullan and Sant Sharma.
"I don't think that we should exclude people of Len's calibre from the opportunity of public service simply because their professional obligations don't allow them to run for a nomination for six or 12 months," Kenney said.
Kenney said that a party rule allows him to appoint up to four candidates, to allow high-profile people like Rhodes to run.
Rhodes will contend with Jasvir Deol, an insurance broker and longtime resident, who won the NDP nomination last month. Deol defeated sitting NDP MLA Denise Woollard to represent the party in the new southeast Edmonton riding.