Tom Choucair says Stephen Mandel told him to drop out of nomination race

Tom Choucair says Health Minister Stephen Mandel pressured him to withdraw from the nomination race in Edmonton-Meadowlark so Katherine O’Neill would win.

Health minister denies suggesting Edmonton-Meadowlark candidate drop out

Disqualified nomination candidate Tom Choucair says he has lost faith in the Progressive Conservative party. (CBC )

Tom Choucair says Health Minister Stephen Mandel pressured him to withdraw from the nomination race in Edmonton-Meadowlark so Katherine O'Neill would win.

Choucair says the message was delivered to him in a phone call from Mandel, who he calls a good friend.  

"He just told me it would look really good," Choucair told CBC News on Wednesday.

"The premier wants more women involved in politics and I should step aside and give my support to O'Neill."

Choucair refused to pull out. The day before the vote, he was disqualified from the race as bribery allegations swirled.

The events stunned the Edmonton businessman. He and Mandel are friends going back to when Mandel was mayor of Edmonton from 2004-2013.

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In fact, when Choucair first decided to take a shot at running for the PC's in the west Edmonton riding, the health minister sent him a text message on January 14 that stood as an endorsement.

"Tom Choucair is a leader within his community. An individual of great principle," the text stated.  "Someone I strongly support."

Choucair was thrilled and planned to use the quote on the front of his campaign pamphlets.

A few weeks later, O'Neill, a former reporter for the Globe and Mail, announced she was running for the nomination.

And a short time after that, Choucair got the call from Mandel.

Choucair not asked to drop out, Mandel says 

But the nature of that call is in dispute.

"I did not ask him to step out of the race. Not at all," Mandel said Wednesday during an interview at the Alberta legislature.

Health Minister Stephen Mandel says he initially endorsed Tom Choucair but denies he tried to get him to step out of the Edmonton-Meadowlark nomination. (CBC )
"I told him that I don't want to get involved in a campaign battle, but I wished him good luck."

The health minister does confirm that his endorsement was genuine, but he changed his mind and wanted to throw his political support behind O'Neill.

"She's a very bright young woman who would be a very good candidate."

Mandel was asked how well he knows O'Neill. "I've known her just through different avenues. Not well," he said, shrugging his shoulders.

Choucair says he sympathizes with the position his friend was in at the time. But he maintains the health minister was trying to get him out of the race because "higher ups" didn't want him to win, something he was confident he would do.

But he never got the chance to even try. The day before party members voted, Choucair got a call from PCAA executive director Kelley Charlebois informing him he had been disqualified and there was nothing he could do about it.

"We weren't disqualified for any good reason whatsoever. We didn't do anything wrong whatsoever."

O'Neill won the nomination in Edmonton-Meadowlark and will be the Tory candidate in the upcoming election.

Choucair feels bad for Jamie Lall

Choucair says what happened to him has played out in a number of other nomination races recently, including Chestermere-Rocky View.

In that situation, Tory stalwart Jamie Lall was dropped from the nomination battle just before midnight Saturday. The news came just after three former Wildrose MLAs (including Danielle Smith) had lost their nomination battles.

Lall's would-be competitor, former Wildrose MLA Bruce McAllister, was acclaimed the winner.

Choucair doesn't know Jamie Lall, but believes they feel the same way.

"We are, we were in a party that (has had) too many underhanded, slimey political maneuvers happening in the backroom."

Recently, Premier Jim Prentice acknowledged there have been some issues with candidates in only a handful of the 87 ridings.

"By and large I think across the province in the other constituencies these have been a credit to the province and a credit to the party," he said.

Choucair doesn't agree.

"I'm standing up because...I'm standing on the principle and I want people to know what this party is up to."

He says he's coming forward now because he wanted to give the PC party time to explain exactly why he wasn't allowed to run for the nomination. That hasn't happened.

And although the health minister withdrew his endorsement, Mandel thinks Choucair deserves some kind of answer.

"That issue's with the party. I'm not going to get involved with those kinds of things," he said.

"He needs to be able to talk to the party and get the explanation he would like to have, but I'm not in that area, it's not my area of interference."

Choucair doubts he will find out and he's done staying quiet about it.

"I find myself unable to continue supporting a party like this. People have lost a lot of faith in this party."