OTTAWA -- With a federal election campaign widely expected to begin as early as next week, the Conservatives are scrambling to replace their candidate in a riding the party has salivated over for years.
Winnipeg South Centre Conservative candidate Raymond Hall resigned Sunday, citing "personal reasons" in a letter to riding association president Tim Burt.
Hall said Monday he will not be making any comments about what happened -- but there are signs he was pressured to step down.
Conservative insiders say party brass felt with Hall at the helm, the party's chances of capturing the riding were close to zero.
Winnipeg South Centre -- a longtime Liberal riding now held by Anita Neville -- has been on the Tory target list for years. The Conservatives have eaten away at the Liberal dominance there but still finished more than 2,300 votes back in the 2008 election.
"He had pedigree but didn't want to do the retail politics necessary, made promises he didn't deliver and suffered from not listening to those that wanted to help him," said one party official, referring to Hall.
Hall's resignation comes just a week before the Conservative government is expected to be defeated either on its budget or a confidence vote over the speaker's rulings finding the government in contempt of Parliament. If that happens, the country will be plunged into its fourth federal election in seven years.
Hall, a pilot and lawyer by trade, was not well known within Conservative circles. He won the nomination in a surprise victory over Winnipeg downtown developer Hart Mallin in 2009. Since then he developed a noticeable presence in the riding with numerous bus bench advertisements and a campaign office in a strip mall on Corydon Avenue just west of Kenaston Boulevard. That office was shut down due to the expense last year.
But it appears Hall and Conservative organizers in Manitoba never meshed.
In December, there was a heated meeting of the riding association and in January a new president was elected, said a party official. Several people were not happy with how Hall was working, particularly in such a desired riding, and there was a lot of arguing and bad blood between various people.
The Conservatives now need to replace Hall quickly. A nomination meeting or an announcement of a candidate being appointed is expected within a few days.
Mallin would not say whether he is still interested in running for the Conservatives when reached by the Free Press Monday.
"It would be inappropriate for me to comment until the party makes an announcement," he said.
Although there is a fear the party waited too long to replace Hall there is also a feeling there will be more unity with another candidate. However, the new candidate will have a steep hill to climb to get a campaign organized. They will also suffer from the after-effects of the discord that has plagued the riding association, culminating in Hall's departure.
The Conservatives have been criticized from within for mucking around with nominations before. Former Conservative MP Inky Mark said the nomination process to replace him in Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette was riddled with interference. He said Bob Sopuck was the only candidate the party ever recognized to run even though two others wanted to challenge him. Sopuck won the byelection to replace Mark in November.
On Sunday, Mark wrote another letter blasting the Conservatives for not allowing an open nomination again in Dauphin this time.