Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Infighting could cost Tories

Some could vote Grit in Brandon byelection

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The Brandon-Souris byelection was supposed to be boring.

Instead, a tumultuous and murky nomination process has angered local Tories and offered a smidgen of hope to an unlikely candidate -- the former Facebook executive running for the fourth-place Liberals.

In a move that shocked many, the Conservatives rejected the nomination paperwork of perceived front-runner Chris Kennedy, the young assistant to MP Merv Tweed, who stepped down in August to run Omnitrax Canada.

That left MLA Larry Maguire to take the Tory nomination by acclamation, and sparked accusations party brass meddled in the process to anoint their chosen man.

The mess prompted Inky Mark, the rogue former Conservative MP, to condemn the nomination process. And, in a full-page column Sunday, Brandon Sun managing editor James O'Connor, a former provincial Tory staffer, eviscerated the federal party and endorsed the Liberals. He called the Tory nomination a fiasco and a slimy game.

There is talk some Tories in Brandon may rip up their party memberships and consider the Liberals, who are now earning more attention than normally paid to a party that got bested by the Greens in the last two elections.

The Grit candidate is Rolf Dinsdale, a former Facebook senior executive and son of longtime Tory cabinet minister Walter Dinsdale, who represented the Brandon area in Parliament for a generation.

"I don't have a dog in (the Tory) fight but they seem to be driving moderates away, and I'm trying to court that vote," said Dinsdale.

Today, rookie Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is making what's likely to be his first of several campaign visits to Brandon.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party is fighting back, defending the process as fair and above-board.

"The party obviously wanted a nomination race, and not the nonsense that has followed," said a senior Conservative source who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Bottom line here is Chris totally buggered this up."

Kennedy's nomination paperwork, including a $1,000 cheque, was due in Ottawa at 5 p.m. Brandon time on Sept. 11. A Purolator tracking record obtained by the Free Press shows the paperwork wasn't mailed until 4 p.m., an hour before the documents were due in Ottawa. The paperwork didn't arrive until nearly 1 p.m. the following day, and the Conservative source said the cheque was missing.

The source said there is no flexibility in the rules, which were laid out clearly and repeatedly beforehand. Real meddling would have involved finagling the rules to accommodate Kennedy, said the source. Then it would have been Maguire's camp up in arms, especially since it flew a campaign volunteer to Ottawa to ensure memberships arrived in time.

As he has all week, Kennedy said he couriered the documents to Ottawa in plenty of time, and is "absolutely" sure he included the cheque.

He said Monday the he-said-she-said of the previous week is doing no one any favours.

"I'm going to step away from politics for a time," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not yet called the Brandon-Souris byelection, or one in Provencher to replace former MP Vic Toews, who retired in July. It's widely expected the byelections will be called later this fall.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2013 A10

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