Investigate fake party memberships, Ottawa PCs urge
Sources say party officials have a meeting about the issue on Friday night
Some local Progressive Conservative supporters are calling on the party to investigate fake memberships in Ottawa West-Nepean after the party's interim leader announced that a third of PC members across the province had been disqualified.
Witnesses to the contentious nomination meeting in Ottawa West-Nepean last May told CBC that many new members signed up to join the party the same day they voted for a candidate.
A number of the new voting members had the same Ottawa address, only showed proof of ID on mobile phones and had Toronto area phone numbers, according to several longtime Progressive Conservative supporters.
'I've never seen anything like that'
"I've been involved in politics for a long time and I've seen a lot of funny things, but I've never seen anything like that," said Marjory LeBreton, a retired Conservative Senator who said she called months ago for the nomination meeting to be declared void.
"A lot of the people who voted without even proper ID had 905 and Toronto area codes. That was their phone number. They were just brought in. I saw it with my own eyes."
200 letters from the party returned to sender
Evidence of a problem also appeared when hundreds of letters from the party were returned to sender last spring, shortly after the nomination contest.
The Ottawa West-Nepean riding association sent letters to 1,466 party members on May 16, 2017, and 200 came back because of problems with the addresses.
"The most blatant and questionable entries involve one address: 25 Woodridge," said a letter to the PC party's lawyer from former riding association president Emma McLennan.
"There are 73 individuals listed as members in this building. This is an unbelievable high number ... 58 people have phone numbers with Toronto/GTA area codes."
McLennan feared the returned letters were "evidence of serious, suspicious irregularities" with the Ottawa West-Nepean membership list.
Party sources tell CBC News there is a meeting Friday evening where officials will discuss evidence of ballot stuffing and invalid memberships.
The nominations in dispute include Ottawa West-Nepean and Scarborough Centre, where a chaotic 2017 nomination meeting led to official complaints to the party.
As many as six candidates are under review.
Vic Fedeli, the Progressive Conservatives' interim leader, said last week that a third of the party's members across the province have been disqualified as illegitimate.
The Tories have just over 133,000 members, Fedeli said, which is about 67,000 fewer than the number claimed by former leader Patrick Brown less than a month ago.
Fedeli has committed to "root out any rot" in the party leading up to the June 7th provincial election.
Full membership audit needed, says critic
Fedeli's effort should entail a complete audit of the membership list before members choose a party leader, according to Jim Karahalios, corporate lawyer and PC supporter in Cambridge, Ont.
"PC party members have to have confidence in this membership list and have confidence in the process that's used to vote," said Karahalios, who was so angered by various nomination processes in Ontario last summer that he started a protest group called Take Back our PC Party.
The party is pulling together to deal with these issues, according to leadership contender Christine Elliot.
"To me a fair process is very important. You only sign up people who want to be members," Elliot said. "I'm assuming that's how the process went for everybody, but there's questions now, obviously," said Elliot.
But not all party supporters believe there are problems with membership lists.
Conservative MP Alex Nuttall called the move to vet the provincial party's membership lists an unnecessary tactic by "Toronto elites".
"They've doubled down, seeking to expel tens of thousands of paid memberships of the PC party of Ontario," said Nuttall.
"The elites in Toronto need to stop making decisions in their own best interest to seek power and start making decisions in the best interest of the people of Ontario."
Marjory LeBreton doesn't buy that.
She said while some worry a party clean-up will give the rival Liberals ammunition, she believes it will prove the party is open and honest.