Conservative leadership hopeful asks party to reconsider disqualification from race

OTTAWA — Conservative leadership hopeful Grant Abraham said Monday his campaign fell $30,000 short of hitting the entry fee for this year’s contest, and did not collect enough party members’ signatures.

But despite not meeting those thresholds, he still believes he’s earned the right to be on the ballot and wants the party to reconsider.

“The handling of this requires a deeper look,” Abraham told a news conference in Calgary.

“It requires the spirit of democracy to burn again within the Conservative party.”

The BC consultant is one of three contenders who believed they had submitted the required fees and paperwork by the April 29 deadline to enter the leadership race, only to be told by the party that they had not.

Toronto lawyer Joel Etienne and Saskatchewan businessman Joseph Bourgault also challenged their disqualifications from the leadership race. The specific issues with their applications were unclear. After meetings with the party, both men now say they accept the decision that their bids didn’t meet the requirements.

Abraham was told by the party he had $33,175 worth of donations deemed ineligible under Elections Canada rules, so he had not actually submitted the total $300,000 required.

Entry to the race required payment of a $200,000 fee and a $100,000 refundable compliance deposit.

Abraham told the Star he believes there’s room for the party to use discretion to consider his entry fee paid in full, and allow him to top-up the balance of his compliance deposit with funds still in his bank account.

“They don’t want to use that discretion. They just want a hard and fast rule,” he told the Star after his morning news conference.

Abraham also argued the fact the party was taking a cut of donations wasn’t clearly spelled out in the rules, citing one section that suggests entry costs are excluded from the administrative fees.

However, the rules also state that all donations flow through the party are subject to the administrative fee, which also applies if those donations are used to pay the entry costs.

In a letter to the Abraham campaign, the party said the rules were spelled out.

“There cannot be any misinterpretation or misunderstanding to this provision, whether or not it was made clear to you,” said the letter from the party’s executive director, Wayne Benson, a copy of which was obtained by the Star.

“Myself and all other staff working on the administration of the leadership contest have a clear understanding of this section and have related a consistent message to all campaigns.”

Abraham also said while he was told on May 1 he hadn’t raised enough money, he wasn’t told about the signatures until later.

Candidates needed to submit 500 signatures from party members in 30 ridings spread over seven provinces and territories.

Abraham was 34 names short.

The party told Abraham his signatures wouldn’t have changed anything.

“At the time of writing, signature verification was still ongoing and would not have reversed or changed the eligibility to advance given the significant monetary shortcomings,” said the letter obtained by the Star.

“We do consider the signature shortfall as an additional failure to meet the requirements to advance.”

In a statement to the Star, Benson said the ruling on Abraham’s candidacy stands.

“Our position remains unchanged, Grant Abraham is not eligible to advance in the leadership contest,” he wrote.

But Abraham told his news conference that the thousands of people who dug deep into their pockets to support his campaign should be respected by the party.

“These rules that are being interpreted in house are simply causing confusion to candidates and denying donors … the right to have the candidate stand, engage in a democratic process in this country and challenge the status quo,” he said.

Donations to leadership campaigns that are found to be inligible under Elections Canada rules are returned to donors.

While the party keeps the administrative fee portion of eligible donations, as well as the first $50,000 of the registration fee, the remainder of the money is returned to candidates.

Six candidates are officially in the running: Scott Aitchison, Roman Baber, Patrick Brown, Jean Charest, Leslyn Lewis and Pierre Poilievre.

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