By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Leslyn Lewis of Toronto was automatically named the next federal Conservative candidate for Haldimand Norfolk last week as the only person to have a complete nomination in before the deadline – but those who attempted to run against her say the Party nitpicked rules to ensure she ran uncontested.
“I am incredibly honoured to officially be named the next Conservative candidate for Haldimand Norfolk. Hundreds of you signed up to support my nomination and I can’t wait to begin the next step of working together to ensure a Conservative victory in the next election!” announced Lewis on Twitter October 15, 2020.
A few hours before Lewis began her celebrations, however, Albert Marshall of Cayuga accused the Conservative Party of refusing his application and denying another potential candidate the chance to run.
“The asserted reason for the refusal to accept my candidacy came at 11 minutes before the close of the nominations process; the Party alleged, wrongly, that potential candidates must open a campaign bank account and pay from that account the sum of $1,000 to the Party. I did not have such an account because I was not yet in any campaign. My efforts in those 11 minutes to pay the sum were flatly refused,” wrote Marshall, who says he was unaware of the rule when he submitted his application.
Cory Hann, Director of Communications for the Conservative Party of Canada, says Marshall was “well informed of the good conduct bond” requirement.
“The rules were sent to him twice – September 29 and October 1. He confirmed receipt on October 1. He also requested on October 1 a bank authorization letter, presumably so that he could open his nomination campaign bank account, which is where the good conduct bond must originate from. In the rules he received, and that are posted on Conservative.ca, it clearly states, ‘A $1,000 certified cheque or bank draft payable to Conservative Fund Canada from the nomination campaign account’ (Sect 7 b xi.),” said Hann.
Marshall agrees that he now sees the rule on the Party site, but asserts, “What they neglect to advise is that their rule is modified by their inclusion of a footnote that links to the Elections Canada rules. The Elections Canada rules do not require a campaign account until one is actually in a nomination campaign (i.e. an approved candidate) or accepting donations – which I was not.”
Marshall says he accepted the Party’s offer of a bank authorization letter as he intended to open a campaign account after his application was accepted.
“There is a clear pattern of selective enforcement of the rules – flexibility when it suits the Party, rigidity when it does not,” said Marshall, asserting that the Party has previously accepted the good conduct bond from personal accounts.
Elaine Smith, who has been the Chief Financial Officer for the Conservative Riding Association of Hamilton Mountain for four years and a member of the Party for many years prior, first met Marshall when he ran provincially in the city. She said he requested her help for this campaign and agrees that the Party is selectively enforcing the rule in this case, noting that she was made aware the previous federal candidate in their riding paid from a personal account.
“It does state in the constitution that you need a campaign account, but Elections Canada says you don’t. Albert and his lawyer found that in the footnote,” said Smith. “I know for a fact that in the past in our riding we have definitely been given a cheque from a personal account and it has not been a problem.”
“Even if Elections Canada said it wasn’t a requirement, it is the Conservative Party rule that we’re following,” responded Hann, adding he is “not aware” of exceptions occurring, and that regardless, “there certainly was not any flexibility in that offered to his opponent.”
Hann noted that Marshall waited until “the last possible day” to submit his application, leaving no time for errors to be corrected. Applications can be submitted at any time of the year for candidate nomination. However, once the nomination process is officially announced, membership sales close seven days after that date and nomination packages are due 14 days after the announcement.
“In Haldimand Norfolk, nominations closed on October 13. That meant you had until 5 p.m. ET to get your completed nomination package into us…. All applications must be complete by that deadline. If it is not, we cannot extend the deadline any further – it’s incomplete and will not be considered,” said Hann. Lewis posted on October 10 that her application had been accepted.
Marshall admits he submitted on the last day, but says the missing cheque should have been obvious as soon as they opened his application and brought to his attention earlier in the day. Instead, Marshall said the person who informed him of the missing cheque did so just before the deadline, sounding “almost jovial” about the news, and stressed “this must all be kept confidential.”
“They engineered this extremely tight deadline to prevent anyone from getting an application in, and to ensure for those who did get one in that they would be able to find apparent ‘errors’ and thus have a legitimate basis to deny them entry…. (We) simply could not meet the demands of this 55-page application (with multiple hoops therein) in such a short time,” argued Marshall, adding that he was already disadvantaged as Lewis had significantly more time to campaign. Hann did not respond to a question about why the Party chose to call the nomination period when it did so, considering the deadline only came into effect once it was officially called.
“His opponent followed all rules exactly as written. Countless other candidates across the country have followed the rules exactly as written. Why couldn’t he?” asked Hann.
Lewis announced running in an undisclosed riding this summer and declared that riding to be Haldimand Norfolk on September 16. Current MP Diane Finley toured the county with her, introducing her to various business owners and community members as a potential choice for the next candidate. Marshall alleges that Finley’s staff also escorted Lewis and questioned the use of tax-payer dollars for an unconfirmed candidate to campaign.
Finley, who intends to retire at the next election, continues to support Lewis’ nomination, providing the following statement to The Press: “I’m incredibly excited at the prospect of Leslyn Lewis as our candidate. She’s a woman of integrity, competence, and possesses the qualities we need in Haldimand Norfolk to deliver on the issues we face and the values we hold. She’s also a strong campaigner, who takes nothing for granted, plays by the rules, and has already formed a strong local campaign team that just continues to grow.”
Marshall was not the only potential nominee to be denied entry. Shaena Rieckermann of Port Dover and Leanne Rabey of Nixon never even made it to the application phase.
“I became a member Thursday, September 17 when I decided to seek the nomination. I reached out to the Conservative party of Haldimand Norfolk to seek clarity on the rules,” Rieckermann said, noting that she then discovered nominees must have been a member for six months, although exceptions can be made. “I sent an email to the Executive Director asking for an exception and she replied the same day to tell me that my request was denied and that I had 48 hours to appeal her decision. This was before I had even submitted my application. They knew nothing about me and asked me no questions about myself. They just flat out denied me. It became clear to me that they only wanted one nominee.”
“I am truly disenchanted by a party that I have faithfully supported for over 20 years. Clearly there is no democracy here,” continued Rieckermann. “The people of Haldimand Norfolk deserve an MP who actually cares about what they want. How can anyone support a party that doesn’t care enough about them to even give them an option of who they want representing them?”
Rabey had decided even earlier that she was interested in running for MP, having been inspired by Finley’s retirement announcement that described being MP as “the greatest honour” of her life. Rabey realized she would need to be a Party member and joined at that time, but couldn’t find further rules.
“I was keenly interested in running, so I made about five calls to the local Conservative office, and some emails, and no one responded. I even called the federal office twice but still no one responded,” said Rabey. When she did get a call back, she was informed the rules were being altered and therefore weren’t online at the moment, but she could receive a copy once they were available. “I got my rules and had maybe two weeks, about 10 days, to send in my application.”
Rabey never went forward with the application however, because local Conservative Electoral District Association President, Jeremy McIntee, told her she wouldn’t qualify anyways due to her short status as a member.
Even before it was determined she would not qualify however, Rabey felt the decision for Lewis had already been made. She cited the various posts by Finley, along with MPP Toby Barrett, that promoted Lewis almost a month before her nomination application was approved. Finley stated on September 16, “I offer Leslyn my full support as she works toward becoming the Member of Parliament for Haldimand Norfolk.”
“Toby Barrett posted it early and I was livid. I was in tears,” said Rabey. “I want to know why all of you people have thrown in your hats for Leslyn Lewis when other people hadn’t even thrown in their hats yet for the race.”
Rabey says she was told Lewis was the preferred candidate because she is well-known in the Party, and therefore likely to be chosen for Erin O’Toole’s cabinet.
“I’m just a nobody though…. They chose that as a priority over having someone local,” concluded Rabey. “I told Albert I would have helped him run, and he would have given (Lewis) a run for her money. I felt (what happened) was wrong and dishonest.”
Marshall added that he believes at least one resident did not submit an application because they were told not to run.
“When I first expressed interest in running, I received a call from George Santos who sits on the local Conservative riding board. He was at the time of the call a member of the riding’s candidate vetting committee…. On this call he told, instructed, and then begged me not to run. When I asked why he said he could not tell me why,” claimed Marshall. “There are quite likely more people that wanted to run that were told ‘no’ by the local board. Names we will never know. Perhaps I am just a little more stubborn and when told ‘no’ – it has made me more determined to ensure our community is given a voice.”
Marshall wants the Party to reopen the nomination process and allow a vote to take place after two more weeks of membership sales. Hann did not respond to a question on whether or not it is possible to reopen the process. Both Marshall and Rieckermann have said they are now contemplating running as an independent in the next election. Marshall’s Facebook post had significant support, with dozens of people claiming they will vote for him as an independent if he runs.
“This is a regrettable decision (to deny the application) and tactic employed by the Party – one that does a disservice to the democratic process and undermines the opportunity of local members to make a choice between competing, motivated, and qualified potential candidates,” said Marshall. “The fact is the Conservative Party engineered this process in order to produce a certain outcome. The Party always intended to force its parachute Toronto candidate upon our riding, rather than entrust the citizens of Haldimand Norfolk to choose a candidate for themselves.”
Hann however, disagrees, asserting, “I assume the tactics Mr. Marshall refers to are the tactics of following our rules and applying them equally to everyone, and him unfortunately being unable to complete the application in accordance with those rules. If his claims are that this is somehow unfair, I’d argue the unfair thing to do would be to exempt him from the rules that other candidates successfully abided by.”
The Press reached out to Leslyn Lewis for additional comment, but a representative responded, “The Party is the best person to talk to about Albert Marshall. Dr. Lewis does not have anything else to add.”