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Harper criticized for meddling in ridings
Politics Watch News Services
November 7, 2007, updated 4:45 p.m.

Brent Barr, Bill Casey and Mark Warner are all former Conservative candidates who had their riding nominations overturned by party headquarters.  

OTTAWA  (PoliticsWatch.com) — A public interest group is accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of breaking an election promise following his party's recent decision to overturn three local riding associations' choice of candidates. 

In the last election, the Conservatives promised in their platform to "prevent party leaders from appointing candidates without the democratic consent of local electoral district associations."

Over the past month, the Conservative party has overruled the wishes of three riding associations to drop their selection of candidates to run in the next election. 

"Party leaders shouldn't have the right to kick candidates out for arbitrary reasons," Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch said in an interview with PoliticsWatch.

In the last election, Democracy Watch gave the Conservative party the highest marks of any federal political party for "Government Accountability," but has since become a critic of the government for failing to live up to numerous promises on the issue. 

Conacher called the Conservatives' interference in the ridings "undemocratic" and "secretive."

Mark Warner, an international-trade lawyer, was his riding association's selection to run against Liberal Bob Rae in an upcoming by-election in Toronto Centre until he received a letter from party headquarters last week informing him he would not be the candidate. Warner cited friction between himself and the party because of his campaign's emphasis on urban issues. 

Another nominated candidate in Guelph, Ontario, Brent Barr, said he was informed last week he was being dropped by the party because he wasn't  campaigning hard enough and refusing to enter information about his riding's constituents into the party's central information system. 

The party has taken its most drastic measures in the Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley where it has suspended the local riding association board for supporting its choice of former Conservative MP Bill Casey as its candidate. 

Casey was kicked out of the Conservative caucus in the spring after he voted against the government's budget implementation bill, which was a confidence matter. 

The party has since replaced the riding association board with a four-member management committee, but the party has not identified its members. The committee is now in control of the riding association and its money and are actively searching for a replacement for Casey.

Conservative Party president Don Plett told the Globe and Mail the names of the committee members are not secret but the members have asked not to have their names in the media. 

In an interview with PoliticsWatch, Casey criticized the party's latest move.

"They've overridden a democratically-elected riding association who never was afraid to give out their names," he said. "To have this committee put in there and not give their names is unacceptable."

Casey noted the irony that licence plates went on sale Tuesday in Nova Scotia commemorating 2008 as 250th anniversary of the birth of Canadian Parliamentary democracy in the province. 

"We're celebrating democracy, but (the Conservative party) is taking it away."

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