Tories drop 2 would-be Ontario candidates

Two former federal Conservative candidates said Wednesday they've been unfairly pushed aside by the party despite being acclaimed for the next election.

Mark Warner, Brent Barr no longer party's picks

Two former federal Conservative candidates said Wednesdaythey've been unfairly pushed aside by the partydespite being acclaimed for thenext election.

In fact last year's Conservative platform said the party would ensure nomination races are fair and transparent, but the recent decisions by the Tories' national office has left the two former contenders questioning the process.

Mark Warner, the once-acclaimed Tory candidate for Toronto Centre, was slated to run against former Ontario premier and federal Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae. The seat was left vacant by the retirementof former interim Liberal leader and cabinet member Bill Graham in July.

Mark Warner, who was ready to run in Toronto-Centre, now jokes that his campaign signs will go straight to the recycling bin. ((CBC))

Butthe 43-year-old Warnersaid the Conservatives party's national office informed him hewas no longer their pick because ofcontinued differences of opinionand strategy, as well his penchant for speaking out aboutsubjects that didn't receive party authorization, such as education, affordable housing and HIV/AIDS issues.

"Frankly, I felt there was a lot of micromanagement … and I don't think it was legitimate," Warner, an international trade lawyer,told the CBC on Wednesday. "I was going off-message."

Warner said references to his attendance at an internationalAIDS conference inToronto in 2006were removed from his bio when he sent it to Ottawa for approval.

"It does seem to be something that bothers people and I don't exactly know why," he said.

Conference organizers criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper for failing to attend the event, whichfeatured high-profilespeakers, includingformer UN envoy Stephen Lewis, former U.S. president Bill Clinton and Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates.

But Conservative party officials saidWarner was a difficult candidate because he didn't follow advice or take direction.

Warner said he was ousted in part for giving an interview to a national magazine about working with a former Liberal cabinet minister.

"I was told that when a reporter comes up like that, you say no comment," said Warner. "I am offended by it, I think it's important to use the modern means of communication to reach people."

Rae issued a release on Wednesday praising Warner as a "as a thoughtful and hardworking person"and said his treatment by Tory leaderswas a "national disgrace."

Guelph businessman ousted

In the riding of Guelph, businessman Brent Barr had won the party's nomination in March, but was told on Oct. 19 that party headquarters had rejected him without any warning.
Brent Barr says he wore a hole through the sole of one of his shoes from campaigning. ((CBC))

"They told me what happened, and I'm still surprised by what happened," hetold onWednesday.

"I would have imagined someone would have taken me aside and said, 'Brent, we have some questions.' They didn't do that."

Barr camein second in the riding in the 2006 election tothe LiberalincumbentBrenda Chamberlain. Hesaidthe party brass told himhe was being dropped because hewasn't campaigning hard enough to build up the party locally, despite his holdingfour community events a week and inviting potential voters into his home for coffee chats.

"That's a completely false statement," he said of the charge of lax campaigning. "If I had actually done anything to embarrass or denigrate the party, I would sit down right and accept it. But I didn't."

Barr said he suspected the party has pushed him aside in favour of a star candidate, something Prime Minister Stephen Harper has blasted Liberals for doing while campaigning for the 2004 federal election.

At the time, Harper said: "We want to clean up internal party politics, beginning with grassroots democratic control of the nomination process."

Conservative Party president Don Plettwould not reveal the precise reasons for dropping the two candidates, citing privacy issues. Hewould only say there were certain concerns and because of those concerns the party needed to take action.

Barrsaid hisloyalty to the partymade himunsure about running as an independent whenever another federal election is called.

"By removing me, it's a slap in the face of democracy andI suspect that will come back and hurt them in the next election," he said.

"I'm a Conservative; I've always been a Conservative. But as far as what happens in the next election, I really can't say at this point."