New Brunswick

PC riding president resigns after party bars potential St. Croix candidate

The president of the Progressive Conservative riding association in St. Croix has resigned less than three weeks before party members there are scheduled to pick a candidate for a key byelection.

Head office's unexplained decision upsets some PCs in a riding facing key byelection

Lorraine Gilmore Peters had planned to seek the nomination at the convention scheduled for Jan. 18, until the Progressive Conservative Party declared she couldn't run. (Facebook/Lorraine Gilmore Peters)

The president of the Progressive Conservative riding association in St. Croix has resigned less than three weeks before party members there are scheduled to pick a candidate for a key byelection.

Vern Card quit on Monday, citing unspecified actions by the party's Fredericton head office that "exceeded my personal and professional comfort levels," according to an email obtained by CBC News.

His resignation happened at the same time some members of the riding executive have been complaining about the party head office rejecting a potential byelection candidate.

Card wrote in his email that in the last two weeks he experienced "situations" that made him question "the positive characteristics" of the party. 

Party stopped candidacy

He said he didn't anticipate the party's behaviour to change and "these environments makes it impossible for me to continue" as riding president.  

Lorraine Gilmore Peters had planned to seek the nomination at the convention scheduled for Jan. 18, but the party declared she couldn't run.

She wrote in a public Facebook post last Friday that the Women For 50 initiative to recruit more female candidates "is suddenly taking on a whole new meaning for me. We must not tolerate barriers that lack credibility and prohibit women from entering politics."

Gilmore Peters couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, and Card refused an interview request.

Cleveland Allaby, the party's regional vice-president who chaired the search committee for potential candidates, confirmed in an interview that some members of the riding executive were upset they weren't given reasons for the rejection of Gilmore Peters.

"We don't share that with the riding association," he said. "If someone is precluded, we respect their privacy rights. … That's a personal thing between the party and the potential nominee."

Thwarted candidate knows reason

He said a majority of the riding association board in St. Croix accepted the decision and agreed to move on.

He said Gilmore Peters herself "obviously would know why."

But in a public Facebook post Tuesday afternoon, Gilmore Peters asked, "if a Person is not permitted by a political party to run in an open race, but they meet the criteria, should they be told why?"  

Premier Blaine Higgs hasn't set a date for the St. Croix byelection. The riding became vacant last September when PC MLA and cabinet minister Greg Thompson died.

It will be a critical test for Higgs's minority government. If the Liberals win the byelection and another one in their stronghold of Shediac Bay-Dieppe, the PCs and the People's Alliance will no longer have the votes to pass legislation.

Allaby said he doesn't think the "kerfuffle," as he called it, will hurt PC chances in the byelection.

"It's a tempest in a teapot in some regards," he said. "For other people, it's a major issue. … I think the voters in St. Croix want us to get the best local candidate we can get our hands on."

Only one candidate for the PC nomination has announced publicly: Kathy Bockus, a well-known former reporter for the St. Croix Courier newspaper who had been working as a riding assistant to Thompson when he died.

The St. Croix seat 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)

Allaby said at least two other potential candidates have filled out their paperwork and gone through vetting and will make a final decision about declaring before Saturday's deadline.

Provincial PC executive director Rick Lafrance said in an emailed statement that every candidate goes through the same process, including a lengthy application form and a face-to-face interview with a vetting committee. 

"The committee looks into a candidate's background, using social media and a variety of other methods," he said. 

Allaby said they check for any social media posts that are at odds with party policy or that make negative comments about particular communities.

9 rejected provincewide

He said examples include anti-LGBTQ or anti-French comments, though he wouldn't say if that is what led to Gilmore Peters being disqualified.

He called the process routine and said nine potential PC candidates were rejected in the last provincial election in 2018. "It's not an unusual thing for people to be declined," he said. 

The Liberals haven't set a date for their nomination convention in the riding. The People's Alliance plans to nominate retired provincial biologist Rod Cumberland.

The Greens have not said when they will choose a candidate.

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