New Brunswick

St. Stephen woman wants to know why PC party quashed Saint Croix candidacy

A St. Stephen business owner who was prevented from running for the Progressive Conservative nomination in an upcoming byelection says she hasn't been given a reason for the decision.

Lorraine Gilmore Peters says she was 'stunned' after abrupt phone call saying she was rejected

Lorraine Gilmore Peters is not happy about 'insinuations' made by the Progressive Conservative Party, which has not told her why her can't run for the Saint Croix seat. (Facebook/Lorraine Gilmore Peters)

A St. Stephen business owner who was prevented from running for the Progressive Conservative nomination in an upcoming byelection says she hasn't been given a reason for the decision.

Lorraine Gilmore Peters tells CBC News that her vetting process was going "great" until a Dec. 20 phone call from the party's executive director telling her that she could not run for the party in the upcoming Saint Croix  byelection.

"I was so stunned, I didn't even have a reply," she said.

The personal trainer and wellness coach now says she believes the controversy will hurt the PC party in the byelection, which could be crucial to the survival of the Higgs government.

"This riding has been left without representation," she said. "The executive locally is falling apart.

"People keep forgetting that this is not about [the party], this is about the voters, this is about the constituents who deserve to have great candidates put forward for them to vote for. They deserve to have representation and they've had none of that."

PC riding association president Vernon Card resigned from his position on Monday. He said in an email that the disqualification was "concerning," but it was "the overall environment" created by the party head office that led him to quit. He would not elaborate. 

The Saint Croix riding has been without a member in the legislature since the death of Progressive Conservative Greg Thompson last September. The PCs are set to nominate a candidate Jan. 18 for a byelection that Premier Blaine Higgs says he will schedule in March.

Saint Croix was held for the PCs by Greg Thompson, minister of intergovernmental affairs, until he died in September at the age of 72. (Submitted by Government of New Brunswick)

So far only one candidate, Kathy Bockus, has publicly announced her candidacy.

The race could be decisive for the PC minority government because of the close standings in the legislature.

The PCs are being propped up by the People's Alliance during confidence votes, but that adds up to a narrow 24-22 margin. If the Liberals won Saint Croix and the Speaker of the legislature, a Liberal, resigned, the Tories would have a hard time passing budgets and bills.

Higgs said in a year-end interview that in that circumstance, he'd call an early provincial election.

Vetting process

Gilmore Peters went through a party process that included a criminal background check, the signing up of 25 party members to support her, and what party officials called a "social media scrub" to check for controversial posts in her past.

No red flags were raised during any of those steps, she said, and she has never posted any offensive material. 

"I've been in business a long time. So has my husband. We don't have any radical extreme views about anything."

As a newcomer to the party, she said, many of her 25 signatures were people who joined the PCs to support her. 

The final step was a panel interview with party officials on Dec. 19 that seemed to go well, to the point that the Tories let her in on how they plan to campaign against the People's Alliance candidate in the riding, she said.

But the next day PC executive director Rick Lafrance told her during "a very stern, authoritative, short call" by telephone that she couldn't run.

'He needs to tell me or he needs to shut up'

Lafrance said in an email statement earlier this week that the vetting process is standard for all candidates. He didn't respond to a request for further comment Thursday. 

In an interview earlier this week, PC regional vice-president Cleveland Allaby said Gilmore Peters "obviously would know why" she was rejected.

But Gilmore Peters said she was not told, and she criticized Allaby for identifying anti-gay or anti-French social media posts as examples of the kind of material that can disqualify a candidate.

"If he knows why I was disqualified, then he needs to tell me or he needs to shut up before he gets himself in trouble, because I'm not going to stand by and allow the insinuations to continue," she said, adding she has counselled LGBTQ youth in a personal development program she runs.

She added that "odd things" have happened recently "that seem to point to the fact that somebody doesn't want me to make it to that nominating convention, but it's nothing that I can substantiate with fact." 

Gilmore Peters said she hadn't thought ahead to whom she'll support when the byelection takes place or whether she'd consider running for another party. 

"I'm going to choose to see this as an opportunity to help in some way, even if it's not necessarily myself at this point. I am going to use this as a benefit to somebody."

But "PCNB's time has expired," she said. "They don't get to say anything now.

"Through this process, I've realized that they don't meet my criteria. … They absolutely have demonstrated that they're not for women's equality. The lack of transparency and accountability is a major problem for me."

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