Nfld. & Labrador

Ches Crosbie rejection could cripple federal Tories in N.L.

Party insiders say Newfoundland and Labrador Tories will be sitting out when the upcoming federal elections comes around, after Ches Crosbie's rejection as a candidate.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives may have an uphill battle finding candidates to run in Newfoundland and Labrador, with party insiders suggesting no one wants to volunteer or donate after Ches Crosbie's rejection as a candidate. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The rejection of Ches Crosbie as a candidate in Avalon has cost the federal Conservatives more than the affection of the Crosbie family.

Multiple Tory insiders say it has already cost the federal party money, potential candidates and campaign volunteers.

"This isn't about, 'I wish they hadn't done that,'" said one party source. "This is about 'shag 'em!' This was the last straw."

Newfoundland and Labrador hasn't been fertile ground for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Tories ever since former premier Danny Williams launched his scorched earth Anything But Conservative (ABC) campaign.

- Long-time Tory insider

That Tory blood feud split the party for years as voters sided overwhelmingly with the immensely popular premier.

But Kathy Dunderdale did try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again in 2011, when she endorsed Harper and promised to help get Conservative MPs elected.

The party was able to run a slate of recognizable candidates — with Progressive Conservative roots — such as Loyola Sullivan, Trevor Taylor and John Ottenheimer.

That ticket didn't have much success, but it at least had credibility. Nobody in either wing of the party believes the federal Tories can come close to fielding a slate like that in 2015.

"Nobody wants to run for them," said a longtime Tory. "They're coming up empty."

'They just ain't doing it'

But it isn't just potential candidates that are staying away. Donors and volunteers, most with deep Progressive Conservative roots, are planning to sit this one out.

Ches Crosbie, right, sitting with his father John Crosbie, was rejected as a Conservative candidate to run in the Avalon riding. (The Canadian Press)

"People were willing to hold their nose and help," said the long-time Tory. But after Crosbie, "they just ain't doing it."

Other party insiders believe Ches Crosbie could have raised at least $100,000 by now for his run in Avalon. Many of those donors will now sit on their wallets rather than give cash to another candidate.

Veteran campaign organizers say they are "not going to touch this with a 10-foot pole."

There is a growing belief in the party that, outside of former cabinet minister Kevin O'Brien, the federal Tory candidates will have zero name recognition.

Riding association executives and members of the party youth wing have been making calls trying to get candidates to run, but they are being met with quick rejections or stony silence.

Scraping the barrel

The sense is that the Tory slate will be little more than a collection of names on a ballot, a cluster of long-time party members strong-armed or cajoled into running out of loyalty to the party.

Party insiders say Kevin O'Brien may be the only recognizable name on a ballot for the Conservative Party of Canada in the upcoming federal election. (CBC)

It will be the creme de la creme of the bottom of the barrel.

Multiple party insiders say there's "no way" the Conservatives will have the volunteers they need to run proper campaigns. Many of the best and most experienced campaign organizers plan to stay home.

There will still be willing donors, but it won't approach what the party has raised in years past or what it needs to run a credible campaign.

The talk is that the federal party may have to agree to pay for campaigns if it is going to convince anyone to run.

It all shows the immense regard many local Tories have for the Crosbie family and the deep fracture that still exists between the provincial PCs and the federal Conservatives.

None of the party sources I spoke with believed Ches Crosbie could actually win Avalon, but he was a candidate many provincial PCs were willing to give their labour and their money.

They aren't willing to do that for Stephen Harper, and it appears they won't be willing to do it for whichever candidates the Conservatives allow to run.

About the Author

David Cochrane is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary bureau. He previously wrote for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.

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