OTTAWA – Conservative party officials are chastising Tory MP Rob Anders for what they say were misleading phone calls placed during a heated nomination battle — a pointed message that they want the race to be fair and open.
Anders’ campaign for the nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill placed calls to party members last week that might have left the impression they were calling from rival Ron Liepert’s campaign.
A script for the calls, which was turned over to the party’s National Candidate Selection Committee (NCSC), features a person saying they are calling from the Conservatives and inquiring whether the party member will be supporting Liepert.
If the target of the call was unsure about who they would support, the caller would proceed to criticize Liepert, said a Conservative source familiar with the script’s contents, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Liepert, a former provincial cabinet minister challenging Anders for the Conservative nomination, lodged a complaint with Elections Canada earlier this week.
The Canadian Press obtained a letter sent to Anders by the selection committee, which is the powerful body that has the final say over who gets to run for the party.
“The NCSC has concluded that the script used by your campaign was inappropriate and misleading, and should not have been used,” reads the letter, sent Thursday.
“We require that your campaign comply with its obligations to be accurate when communicating with members of the party, as you have now agreed to do.”
Anders appeared to be doubling down on the issue, putting out a press release Wednesday evening saying he would seek legal counsel to examine whether Liepert had defamed him over the phone call issue.
But the party’s rebuke is a signal that the party is intent on living up to its promise to ensure a level playing field in nomination battles, even when one competitor is an incumbent MP.
It’s the first time since the Conservatives formed government in 2006 that incumbents are not being protected from challengers.
Anders also claimed earlier this week that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had endorsed his campaign. A Conservative party source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Harper is not explicitly endorsing incumbents, but merely allowing them to use positive quotes referring to their time in Parliament.