Eve Adams nomination scrap a test case for Tory grassroots

Memo to prospective riding jumpers: It's not all about Eve. In fact, Chris Hall writes, Stephen Harper getting directly involved in the Eve Adams' nomination scrap is more about trying to show that the Conservative grassroots is still being heard.

Memo to riding jumpers: It's not all about Eve

Mississauga MP Eve Adams would like to move to a safer constituency, but the PM is not happy with the way she is going about it. (Canadian Press)

Eve Adams wants to stay a winner. That's about as a safe an observation around Parliament Hill as noting the Centennial Flame never goes out.

But it's the way the first-term Conservative MP is going about trying to secure her return to Parliament that could make her goal unachievable, and could even anger the party's vaunted grassroots in the crucial run-up to the 2015 election.

Complaints about her heavy-handed actions in pursuit of the Conservative nomination in a new Ontario riding — seen as a safer, more affluent constituency a couple of commuter stops away from the one she currently holds — are now in the hands of the prime minister.

Stephen Harper ordered an immediate investigation on Wednesday after the president of the new Oakville-North Burlington Conservative Association wrote directly to him to complain about her tactics.

In the letter first made public by CBC News, Mark Fedak wrote that Adams' actions were "negatively impacting the internal workings of our own local association and taking a toll on the brand of the party." The letter was endorsed by 15 members of the fledgling riding association.

Among the complaints:

  • Adams somehow vetoed the association's efforts to hire a private company to prepare maps showing Conservative support in the riding.
  • The MP, who currently represents a riding in Mississauga, was using personal information stored on the Conservatives' database to contact association members in Oakville, information she shouldn't have had.
  • And Adams arrived uninvited at the association's planning meeting on March 19 and refused repeated requests to leave, verbally abusing at least four members of the board.

By itself, getting a letter from loyal party members excoriating the way a backbench Conservative MP is treating them is awkward enough for the prime minister.

The government is already in the midst of trying to jam through controversial changes to federal elections laws that many experts have said are intended to tilt the playing field in the Conservative's favour.

But the letter also arrived just days after Harper fired Dimitri Soudas — his combative, long-time aide who also happens to be Adams' fiancé — as the Conservative Party's executive director.

That decision, painful as it must have been for Harper, was unavoidable after an internal review showed Soudas was using his office to help her with the nomination bid.

Not all about Eve

The appearance of favouritism, the allegation of high-level party resources being directed to one candidate in a nomination battle, the loss of your top party official, these are the kinds of things that can't be simply dismissed as internal grumblings.

Add to this the proximity of Soudas to the prime minister — "hand-picked" for the job, it was said at his appointment — alongside Adams' own tactics and you can understand why people are questioning just how far the Conservatives are prepared to go to hang on to power.

It's not all about Eve, though many Conservatives MPs are trying to make it just that.

"Her actions are not becoming of a member of Parliament. But that is my opinion,'' Toronto MP Chungsen Leung told reporters on Wednesday after the Conservatives weekly caucus meeting, which Adams didn't attend.

MP David Tilson said he's seen the letter and doesn't know what to think. "Obviously that riding association is upset,'' he said, adding he wants to hear Adams side of the story.

"We were all given strict instructions that it has to be fair to all people seeking the nomination.''

That's what the party's formal investigation is trying to determine. If Adams is found to have broken party rules, sources say she could be denied the opportunity to seek the nomination in the new riding of Oakville-North Burlington.

But can she, or should she, remain a member of the Conservative caucus? Legally there's no reason she shouldn't. Politically there are several.

Unwritten rules

Some MPs argue Adams and Soudas violated the most fundamental, unwritten rules of politics: don't turn your back on the people who elected you, and always tend to your home base first. (Also, don't get caught using your personal relationships to try to further your career.) 

Dimitri Soudas and Eve Adams are shown in a photo taken from a promotional flyer distributed earlier by Adams's camp this month in the newly formed riding of Oakville North—Burlington. (CBC)

In Adams' case, she declared herself to be a candidate in Oakville-North Burlington before the Conservatives MPs who represented the area before redistribution decided where they wanted to run.

In doing that, she turned her back on her supporters in her current riding, plus she seemed to forget that every Conservative MP serves the party's goals, not the other way around.

Jeff Knoll is one of the Conservative board members in Oakville-North Burlington who signed the letter sent to the prime minister. He says Adams abused her parliamentary privileges as an MP to build support in the riding.

"Frankly, as much as it pains me to say, I'm not even sure I could support her if she's the nominated candidate, as a life-long, card-carrying member of the Progressive Conservative and Conservative parties.''

In other words, Adams has made her own re-election bid — wherever she runs — that much more difficult.

For the prime minister, though, the greater fear is that this spark of discontent among the party grassroots could easily spread to other hotly-contested nomination battles in Ontario and Alberta, too. And that's something Harper, and the Conservatives, are determined to prevent.


Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998. Follow him on Twitter: @chrishallcbc


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