Race to replace Day was rigged say some hopefuls

Okanagan Coquihalla Conservative candidate Dan Albas is rejecting allegations from Tory riding supporters that he had prior knowledge of long-time MP Stockwell Day’s surprise retirement announcement thus giving him an advantage over other party members who were considering making run at the candidacy.

  • Mar. 24, 2011 8:00 a.m.

Okanagan Coquihalla Conservative candidate Dan Albas is rejecting allegations from Tory riding supporters that he had prior knowledge of long-time MP Stockwell Day’s surprise retirement announcement thus giving him an advantage over other party members who were considering making run at the candidacy.

“I found out at the same time as everyone else did. There was an email that went out,” said Albas. “As far as I understand, Stockwell Day gave no indication (that he was about to retire).”

It is an assertion that Day backs up, claiming that everyone knew at the same time. It is the well organized potential candidates, he said, that got their nomination papers filed in time.

“Hard-working volunteers are the ones who run the (nomination process), not the party brass,” said Day. “I feel bad that their actions are now being questioned.”

He had not chosen a successor, he added. After close to 11 years as the riding’s MP, Day, along with fellow Conservative MPs Chuck Strahl and John Cummins, announced their intentions to not run in the next federal election March 12. The nomination process to replace him began March 14 and the deadline for the completed application package with 25 signatures to be in Ottawa was on March 18 at 5 p.m.  The nomination vote was held on March 22 with only Albas, Day’s former parliamentary assistant Marshall Neufeld and former association board member Russell “Rusty” Ensign on the ballot.

“The nomination was open Monday. I received my nomination papers at the same time as anyone who applied which was after the nomination opened,” said Albas.

“Given the fact that we may be faced with an unnecessary election I think the party made a judgment call and from reading the papers yesterday it sounds like that call was pretty accurate.

“Speaking frankly, this was a very positive campaign. We had a strong group from the membership come out. We had three great candidates out there. It was an honour to compete with them and it was a greater honour to be able to step forward as the flag bearer.”

But Kelowna realtor Sean Upshaw asserted the compressed timeline for the process fixed it so that several would-be candidates such as himself would not have time to complete and submit the application package before the deadline. Upshaw said he believes the field of candidates should have been wider.

“The issue at hand here is the party has stated that they follow strict guidelines and deadlines for the election results,” Upshaw said. “Nowhere in writing either on the website of the party or in the documents that were sent out to … myself is the deadline of having the application in Ottawa by 5 p.m. Friday March 18.”

Instead, Upshaw said he was urged to meet with the party’s riding association president, Day’s assistant Doug Sharpe, thinking that he could pass Sharpe the documents. While the two met, Upshaw said he was told to use a delivery service to get the application to Ottawa in time. However, by then it was too late for the service to be able to accommodate the delivery for the next day.

“If this is the present state of how we decide to elect our politicians in the Conservative party, what a sad, sad state of affairs we are in,” said Upshaw.

Former fundraising chair for Stockwell Day Mischa Popoff went further. In a series of emails to the Penticton Western News, Popoff said it was “a clear abuse of the electoral process.”

“It’s clear Albas had insider knowledge of Stockwell Day’s retirement. So did his two opponents (Neufeld and Ensign) who, like Albas, served for years on Day’s board,” wrote Popoff, claiming to have torn up his Conservative membership as a result.

“Day let all the (sic) three of these insiders know he was retiring and then made his announcement public so late that no one else could get into the race. Many highly qualified candidates were turned away simply because they didn’t get their paperwork in on time, a scheme that was deliberately orchestrated by (Sharpe).”

It is an accusation Sharpe said is unfounded.

“On Monday a telephone (message) went to the membership advising them of the process,” Sharpe said. “There was some foreshadowing that a nomination would happen in the media coverage, when Stockwell Day stepped down, but the official word came out on Monday.”

Sharpe said that there have been no complaints about nominations in other ridings where the process played out the same way.

“There’s lots of precedent for having the authority to compress timelines, when there’s imminent need,” he added.

Albas called Popoff’s comments unfortunate before asserting he believes he has the majority of the riding association behind him.