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'The concerns we express go to the heart of our grass roots democracy'

Posted May 4, 2010

A confidential, seven page letter dated April 29, 2010, on behalf of The executive directors of the Simcoe-Grey Electoral District Association (EDA), addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a copy of which was obtained by Free Press Online, complains about the "intervention of our Party's head office in the affairs of our EDA."

Below is a copy of the letter in its entirety:

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper , P.C., MP,
Prime Minister of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A2

Dear Sir:

We are the executive board of the Simcoe-Grey EDA and have been authorized and instructed by our EDA Board to send this letter, together with a detailed event chronology and list of questions to which we would appreciate your reply.

At this juncture, our Board takes no position as to "pro" Helena vs. "anti" Helena issues or sentiment. Our concerns relate to the intervention of our Party's "head office" in the affairs of our EDA commencing April 9, 2010 - the day MP Helena Guergis either resigned or was removed by you from Cabinet and concurrently removed from Caucus.

The concerns we express go to the heart of our grass roots democracy, fairness, respect for the relevance and autonomy of EDA's that operate within the Conservative's Party's Constitution and their EDA Constitution.

When you review the detailed Event Chronology (enclosed) it should be obvious why we are concerned. We have experienced a top down dictatorial attitude and methodology by Colin McSweeney, who has purported throughout to speak with authority from "head office" and takes his directions directly from an individual who in turn takes direction directly from you.

From our experience, Mr. McSweeney is not a facilitator or coordinator, but rather a person who masquerades as a big wheel in the Conservative Party head office, delivering demands and ultimatums and was very instrumental in trying ton incite divisiveness within our EDA.

As the event chronology explains, Mr. McSweeney required strict AGM protocol that included an insistence on limiting entry to members only. He then proceeded to override our door personnel and admitted a person by the name of Dr. Kellie Leitch who worked the membership very well, explaining she was setting up a pediatric practice in our EDA area and she exchanged names and contact information. When members of our executive found out what had happened she was politely asked to leave and did so. However, it was learned later she was seeking privileges at Collingwood Hospital so she could run as the Conservative candidate in the next election.

She is reported to be close friends with Minister Peter Van Loan who is an MP for an adjoining EDA York-Simcoe.

Was it mere coincidence that the President and Past President of the York-Simcoe EDA volunteered to attend our AGM to count ballots in the event of an election?

If parachuting or affording special status for Dr. Leitch as a candidate for Simcoe-Grey is part of head office strategy with or without the complicity of other EDA's, it smacks of Liberal ploys that were at one time so denounced by yourself.

Dr. Leitch could be an outstanding potential candidate but her debut in our EDA is tainted. She is either incredibly naive, incredibly presumptuous or has been misled by inept and opportunistic proponents of her presumed candidacy that reach very high up in the Conservative Party hierarchy.

What may have been if handled appropriately a potential star candidate, a "Minister of Health," a female to replace a female has turned sour by shenanigans of people in your "head office" with what appears to us to be aiding and abetting by a least one EDA apparently eager to interfere in the affairs of our EDA.

In Simcoe-Grey we have a strong "conservative" base. We don't want to lose this seat in the next election. But head office personnel have deliberately interfered with, obstructed and circumvented our autonomy as an Association, and our right to freely express reasonable opinions.

At the conclusion of our Event Chronology are some questions we would appreciate answered. And please Prime Minister, spare us the insult of having our questions answered by the same people that have created or contributed to the problems in the first place.

Thank you

President Andy Beaudoin*
Past President, Mark Eplett*
First Vice President, Paul Shaw*
Second Vice President, Charlie Tatham*
Secretary, Joan Keutsch
Financial Agent, Peter Powell
Executive Officer, Sandy Kursis
*signifies that this Executive Officer held an Executive office on the immediately preceding Executive

cc - National Councillors
cc - Members of Conservative Caucus

EVENT CHRONOLOGY

(as is referred to in the letter to the Prime Minister dated April 29, 2010)

The following sequence of events occurred:

1. In the afternoon of April 9, 2010 Colin McSweeney, previously unknown or unheard of by most of us, called our executive members, determined who the EDA spokesperson was and instructed him not to talk to the media and to cancel a radio interview (of about 5 minutes) already scheduled. No explanation was to be given - just cancel it. Or, make up an excuse. When queried as to his authority for overriding the mandate of the local EDA, his explanation was that he represented "head office" receiving his instructions from a person who in turn received instructions directly from the Prime Minister. The EDA spokesperson told him if head office insisted on controlling the message - let it send the message then, or perhaps the media should have an honest explanation like "our EDA has been told by Colin McSweeney of head office we are not to talk to the media." "You can't say that," was his response. That radio interview was cancelled - not because of Mr. McSweeney's insistence but because the EDA spokesperson did not believe he was in a position to speak for the EDA executive and accurately reflect its position given the rapidly unfolding situation. The reporter was contacted, that explanation was given although disappointed he did not state that he "kind of expected this under the circumstances.

2. Later that day in a telephone conference call between Mr. McSweeney and our Executive Board, he made it very clear that he was "telling" us that "head office" did not want any of us talking to the media on behalf of the Simcoe Grey Board except as follows:

  • - our AGM (scheduled for April 24) was a routine meeting of members only
  • - it is closed to the press and to the public
  • - that our EDA is not even empowered to conduct a candidate selection process. That is up to the "head office" to make that call if and when it should determine it appropriate to do so.
He insisted that when the media called they were to be told to email their questions and respond with the "message." If calls got through, they were to be given an excuse (like - "Sorry, I'll call you back" and then "don't" or make an excuse (i.e. lie - our words, but to the same effect). If people continued to call expressing interest in running for the Conservatives in Simcoe Grey in the next election, should Helena not be our Conservative candidate, we were instructed by Mr. McSweeney to tell them to actively sign up members to the Conservative Party so that if there is a candidate selection process they will have supporters to their candidacy ready to go.

3. Dozens of telephone calls, emails and faxes were received by the EDA spokesperson and his staff were instructed to ask for email enquiries to be sent. For those that did, the "message" relayed even though in many respects it was non-responsive to most of the inquiries. The EDA spokesperson is also a very busy lawyer and has a large volume of "work" related communications each day and sometimes people are reluctant to tell staff the nature of their business. One television crew refused to leave his waiting room until he came our and talked to them which he eventually did - off camera and simply explained that there was very little that the EDA could comment on and then delivered the message.

4. Notwithstanding best efforts, a few sporadic telephone calls did get through and again the message was delivered. One such call was from Jennifer Ditchburn of the (Canadian) Press. The message was a usual delivered. In addition, however, the EDA spokesperson is reported to have added:

  • - "the members of the executive are getting calls all the time with people expressing interest... if Helena is not going to be the candidate"
  • - that the executive is in a "no man's land" waiting to get marching orders from the party on when to hold the next candidate selection meeting
  • - I hope they give her some reasonable latitude to try and vindicate herself by if they don't do that and they instruct us and we have to hold a candidate meeting - she might not be able to participate in a candidate selection process
  • - he expects Guergis would be anxious to run again under the Conservative banner when and if she is able to clear her name
  • - but just having the allegations discredited may not be enough
  • - "in the court of law, these types of things wouldn't get to first base, unless there's something deeper than what the rumour mill would have it
  • - but in the court of public opinion, that can make people's minds up, position people's minds pretty quickly. It's pretty hard to rehabilitate one's character once it has been assassinated by rumour and third party information and innuendo and that is where the problem lies.
  • (Not one member of the Simcoe-Grey EDA executive had any problem whatsoever with any of these comments which, although an extension of the official EDA message, were an expression of opinion shared by all the executive. There was nothing considered to be offensive or out of line and many members of the public, Conservatives and non-Conservatives alike have expressed similar concerns about the unfair media portrayal).


5. Apparently "head office" thought otherwise. McSweeney expressed to EDA executive members (other than the spokesperson) that head office was furious and exerted a great deal of pressure on the executive to replace their spokesperson as even an expression of personal opinion was not permitted. He went so far as to insist that the President send the EDA spokesperson a letter that he himself was instrumental in drafting - one that was insulting, insensitive and demanding. The President sent it. Other members of the Executive including the EDA spokesperson, expressed their extreme disappointment and disapproval at the contents of the letter. Upon reflection, the EDA President formally apologized and acknowledged that Mr. McSweeney was attempting to create conflict within the Board. The President's apology was accepted and this executive remains strong and united and as a show of confidence each has been returned by the Board for a new term following the 24th of April AGM.

6. At the AGM of April 24, 2010, the Executive adhered to Mr. McSweeney's strict instructions that we were to ensure that the only people permitted into the meeting were our EDA members currently in good standing or whose membership had expired within the 90 days preceding the meeting. Two lists were sent to us from head office - the current one and also the 90 day list. Our people on the door strictly enforced this - and good Conservative supporters and hard working volunteers were sent home because they were not on either list. The current president and past president of the EDA for Peter Van Loan's riding of York-Simcoe attended to count ballots if necessary.
An unknown female arrived at the door, was on neither list and our door people refused her entry. Mr. McSweeney did an "override" and told them it was okay for her to enter. She proceeded to work the crowd very well, explaining that she was a pediatric doctor, that she was going to be setting up practice in the area. She exchanged telephone numbers and other contact information. She had been mixing with our members for quite some time until it was brought to the attention of the Executive that she had no right to be at the meeting and that the door people had been overruled by Mr. McSweeney. She was promptly asked to leave and did.

7. That individual was Dr. Kellie Leitch.

8. At a social gathering on the evening of April 24 (the evening of the AGM) one of our Executive Directors in discussion with a local orthopaedic surgeon was advised that Dr. Leitch had applied to the Collingwood hospital for privileges.

9. On the CTV national news that same evening (April 24) the following was reported: "The Conservative Party does not want embattled MP Helena Guergis to run in the next election, CTV News has learned. A senior Tory source called Guergis a "problem candidate" and said the party is looking for a new candidate in the Simcoe-Grey riding in Central Ontario."

10. Another executive officer was told on April 27 by a Collingwood doctor that the talk of the doctor's lounge that morning was that Dr. Kellie Leitch was setting up a practice locally so she could be the "Conservative Candidate" in the next election. This doctor's personal opinion was that she would not be of much assistance to local patients if she was off in Ottawa.

11. The executive has been informed that Dr. Kellie Leitch has had close connections to Peter Van Loan for years including a dating relationship. Her on-line biography is objectively impressive as a professional and as an advisor. But the circumstances in which she entered our AGM is very troubling for us. At no time did she tell any person at the AGM that she was seeking to be the Conservative candidate in the next election. She passed herself off as only a medical specialist who would be setting up a practice within the EDA area. The apparently cozy connection between Mr. McSweeney, Peter Van Loan, top executives of the York Simcoe EDA and Dr. Leitch when coupled with the CTV News statement has raised some very serious questions about "head office's" agenda as follows:

  • a) If you Prime Minister have no intention of signing Ms. Guergis' nomination papers in the next election irrespective of the outcome of the RCMP (and or other) investigation why is that position not being communicated to Ms. Guergis and to our Simcoe Grey EDA?
  • b) if the position of caucus is that Ms. Guergis will not be allowed back into Caucus irrespective of the above-referenced outcome, why is she and our EDA not being so advised?
  • c) are the contents of the CTV broadcast accurate and if so: - what and who compromises the "Conservative Party" that does not want her to run in the next election? who is the "senior" Tory source quoted? who is looking for a "new candidate" in Simcoe Grey?
  • d) equally as important sir: Why has our EDA not been given the mandate afforded to all EDA's which do not have a Conservative candidate to form a nominating committee and begin the process leading to a candidate selection meeting? Are you intending to parachute a candidate into Simcoe Grey in a fashion that the Liberals once did and which practice you so strongly protested?
  • e) do you approve of the way in which Dr. Leitch was admitted into our AGM contrary to the admission criteria clearly established by our EDA and your representative Mr. McSweeney and if you do not agree, what if anything do you suggest should be done to address what happened?
  • f) do you approve of the way in which Dr. Leitch entered what she should have known was a meeting closed to members only, her mingling with the crowd exchanging contact information, and disclosing only that she was a medical specialist intending on setting up practice in the EDA area yet never once indicating her intention to run for the Conservatives in the next election? If you do approve of this - why? If you do no, what if anything do you suggest should be done to address her conduct?
  • g) why, through all of the troubling times from April 9, 2010, and following, was there not an honest transparency emanating from Conservative "head office" that clarified for all concerned the following:
- Helena's status as a candidate for the Conservative Party in the next election?
- If she was not to be the candidate then why was the EDA not instructed to conduct a "purge" of its board to determine those that may choose to resign and support Ms. Guergis should she choose to run as an independent and for those on the Board remaining to renew their commitment to fulfill their fiduciary duty as directors and conduct a candidate search?
- and for the numerous potential contenders wishing to view for the Simcoe Grey candidacy, why were we instructed to essentially mislead them into believing they could participate in a process believed by all to be fair, when in fact it appears there is a "star" candidate being given at the very least, preferred treatment.

h) does the Conservative Party Constitution apply to all conservatives or is "head office" somehow exempt as appears is apparent from our experience?

i) does the Conservative Party EDA Constitution establish EDA rights, responsibilities and privileges or is "head office" entitled to do an "override" when it considers it appropriate/convenient?

Your early response to these questions is requested.

Yours very truly

President Andy Beaudoin*
Past President, Mark Eplett*
First Vice President, Paul Shaw*
Second Vice President, Charlie Tatham*
Secretary, Joan Keutsch
Financial Agent, Peter Powell
Executive Officer, Sandy Kursis

Simcoe Grey Electoral District Association
Executive Board of Directors

*signifies that this Executive Officer held an Executive office on the immediately preceding Executive

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