Faith in the Wildrose Alliance’s purported grassroots ethos is wilting in the riding of Little Bow east of Calgary.
Today, seven of eight Little Bow Wild Rose Alliance executives announced they were resigning due to recent party nomination process "irregularities.”
“We felt that the irregularities were such that if we were quiet we were giving silent approval to what has happened and we couldn’t do that,” says former association president Kevin Van Lagen, in an interview with Fast Forward Weekly.
The mass resignation, he says, was a "matter of principle."
Last weekend, provincial party executives declared Ian Donovan the winner in the nomination race. It's a decision that contradicts the local returning officer's conclusion "based on the ballots in his possession," note the resigning executives. (See below.)
Van Lagen says party members were prevented from casting a ballot because their names were on the voting list and that eight missing ballots, allegedly sitting in a Calgary office, were included in the final tally.
According to the party's rules, those ballots need to be scrutinized under the authority of the returning officer, says John Voorhorst, former vice-president of fundraising for the association. But the returnig officer never saw those eight ballots, which tipped the vote in favour of Donovan, he adds.
"I don't know how you can wiggle around that... that's a clear infraction of the rules" he says. "This doesn't look like they hold a very high regard for the democratic process... the grassroots and the local people here."
"I don't know how I could support and continue to be a member of a party that so easily works its way past such a simple rule," says Voorhorst. "For a party that comes out and talks about and criticizes the governing people about transparency needs to make sure it does everything transparently."
The former executives also allege that Donovan violated party rules by collecting money from people to purchase memberships. “The rules and procedures state very clearly you may not buy memberships for anyone other than direct family members,” says Van Lagen.
Wildrose hierarchy, including party president Hal Walker, were aware of the irregularities as was party Leader Danielle Smith, says Van Lagen. “Danielle Smith has been copied on all the emails…so I would suggest she is aware,” he says.
In a statement posted on the Wildrose Alliance website, Walker says the "nomination process was run in accordance with the candidate nomination rules and procedures as approved by the Party" and that a "thorough review by the Provincial Candidate Selection Committee" upheld the results.
Walker also accuses the Little Bow Local Candidate Nominating Committee of failing "to follow these rules or maintain neutrality in the race."
Van Lagen, whose faith in the party has been shaken, says the incident was an opportunity for the Wildrose Alliance to prove they were different from other political parties, “but they just didn’t come to the plate."
“What do policies mean if you don’t have the fortitude to stick with what you stand for,” he says. “If you can’t stick with your own procedures in running a nomination are you going to stick with your policies?”
Here's the statement from the former executives released earlier today:
"We are writing this letter in response to the decision of the Wildrose Alliance to allow Ian Donovan as candidate for the Wildrose Alliance in Little Bow.
We became members of this party because we believed that it stood for something different. We saw the policies of the Wildrose Alliance as exciting ideas that would change the nature of politics in this province. We particularly liked the open and transparent message that came from the party. This being said, we have now discovered how wrong we were.
As members of the constituency association we have experienced that the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance has systematically demonstrated incompetence in regards to the nomination process. Not only this, we have also experienced that this party is not a grassroots party, but a party run by a few paid employees that are not willing to work with local officials. Most significantly, the party central, with the leader Danielle Smith in awareness, flagrantly ignored its own procedures and rules by carefully interpreting the rules to favour a specific candidate. Two violations that we point to is the buying of memberships for people other than direct family members in clear contravention of the established guidelines of the party; we also point to the fact that eight mail-in ballots were never verified by the Returning Officer, but were mysteriously left in an office in Calgary.
It does not bode well for a party to make a statement in the public about open, transparent government on the same day that a locally elected executive was being squashed by the party central. As such, we are prepared to release the following statement to the presidents and to the local and national press by 10 a.m. Thursday, November 25, 2010 if our voices are continued to be ignored:
“The Provincial Executive of the Wildrose Alliance has declared Ian Donovan the winner of the nomination contest in Little Bow, contrary to the conclusion and declaration of the local Returning Officer based on the ballots in his possession. To this end, all but one member of the executive of Little Bow are resigning immediately. These resignations are based on the fact that flagrant irregularities occurred in the nomination process that were acknowledged but disregarded by the provincial executive, including the leader of the party. As such, the directors have lost faith in a party that supposedly espouses transparency and grassroots democracy.”
Kevin Van Lagen, President
Jack Derksen, CFO
Lee De Boer, Secretary
John Voorhorst, VP Fundraising
Robert Laing, VP Policy
Bill Harding, Director at Large
Kerry Nabozniak, Director at Large