Tory MP Brad Trost ready to go 'all the way' in legal fight with Conservative Party
'If you didn't do anything wrong, you fight it tooth and nail,' former leadership candidate says
Conservative MP Brad Trost says his supporters have amassed tens of thousands of dollars to help him fight a potentially lengthy court battle against his own party.
And just how far is the Saskatchewan MP willing to take that legal fight?
"All the way," Trost said in an interview with CBC News. He acknowledged that could include a series of appeals which could, in theory, wind its way through the court for years.
Trost said he is the victim of a "deliberate smear" after the party slapped his leadership campaign with a $50,000 fine for leaking the Conservative membership list to the National Firearms Association, a gun owners rights group.
Divisions within the party are especially sensitive for the Conservatives, who spent years working to unite the right after the Progressive Conservative-Reform split. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer won last May's vote in large part by promising to maintain party unity.
Trost, who finished fourth in that leadership race, insisted his gripe is not with Scheer, but with "factions inside the party" who are working against him.
"Look, if you didn't do anything wrong, you fight it tooth and nail. You don't let someone do this. And in politics, at the end of the day, what you have is your reputation and really nothing more."
A spokesman for the Conservatives said Trost should use the party's own appeals process to deal with the dispute rather than "bogging down" the court system.
Fight over leaked list
The Conservative Party uses a practice known as "salting" its membership list, meaning each leadership campaign received a slightly different copy of the list to allow officials to trace potential leaks.
Trost denies that he or anyone from the campaign leaked the list. He said even if the salted list points to his campaign, it could have just as easily been leaked by someone at party headquarters who had access to all the versions of the list.
Trost first launched legal proceedings against the party in September, and said he hoped the issues would be quickly resolved. He also said the party has not been forthcoming with the evidence his lawyers have requested and he's now settling in for a much longer legal fight.
Supporters have pledged some $50,000 toward legal fees, Trost said, with pledges of roughly another $50,000 if the legal fight continues.
(Trost said the money is separate from funds he has raised as a leadership candidate and an MP. Donations are not tax deductible and he said the financial matters are being handled by bluecommittee.org. The web site for the group lists Trost's former campaign manager as one of its "consultants.")
The Saskatchewan MP said it's "ironic" he may wind up spending more on legal fees than the cost of the fine itself, but insists it's important to clear his name.
Conservative spokesman Cory Hann said in a statement that the party's rules around the leadership vote are clear and that there is an appeals process for campaigns to use if they feel a ruling is unfair.
"Since day one, the party has asked Mr. Trost and his team to abide by the rules and process they agreed to, and use the appropriate appeals process instead of bogging down our court system and costing the party and our donors legal fees due to unnecessary litigation."
"We're continuing to invite the Trost campaign to utilize the appropriate process that we built-in for such a matter, and our appeals committee remains ready to hear any appeal if and when that process finally gets used," said Hann.
Trost said he believes those within the party who dislike him have also encouraged another politician to challenge Trost for the Conservative nomination in his riding of Saskatoon–University.
Two challengers have emerged. Local businessman Brad Redekopp and MLA and former speaker of the Saskatchewan Legislature, Corey Tochor. It's about that second challenger that Trost has questions.
"Was Corey recruited to run against me by people inside the party who don't like me? Yes. Of that I'm fairly certain."
Tochor rejects the suggestion.
"Members from Saskatoon–University, the grassroots, have encouraged me to run. Whatever conspiracy theory that he would like to think up, there's more than one person who is challenging him, so it's not that I'm the sole person that thought that renewal and fresh start is what's needed," he told CBC News.
The Conservative Party insists its nominations are fair and open.
"In order for a potential candidate to challenge the nomination in a Conservative-held seat, there was a clearly laid-out set of requirements that was communicated with caucus and our membership," said Hann.
"Specifically in Saskatoon–University, two candidates adhered to those rules, met the requirements, and a nomination will be scheduled at a future date for the riding."
Trost said he'll be skipping his party's upcoming caucus meeting in Victoria on Jan. 24 and 25 in order to focus on his nomination fight.
If he does win that fight, Trost acknowledges that he may find himself in the unique position of representing a party in the next election, while simultaneously fighting that party in the courts.