Disqualified Conservative leadership candidates won’t appeal

OTTAWA—Two men who believed they’d qualified to run for Conservative party leadership only to have their bids rejected are now abandoning efforts to challenge that decision.

Toronto lawyer Joel Etienne, who had filed a blistering appeal of his rejection that included allegations of racism and discrimination, said late Friday afternoon he now feels his concerns have been addressed.

“At this time, I believe that it is best for the good of the country and for the good of the Conservative Party of Canada that we all rally, my supporters and I, behind our new leader, whoever that may be, to defeat Justin Trudeau and restore order and hope in our great country,” he said.

Etienne, and Saskatchewan businessman Joseph Bourgault both believed they had submitted the $300,000 fee — and more — by last Friday’s deadline, as well as the 500 signatures from 30 ridings in seven provinces and territories in support of their bid.

But both men, as well as B.C. business Grant Abraham, were then told they had fallen short.

Race organizers have been meeting with campaigns in the days since to go over the issues with their files amidst pressure to fully disclose what exactly derailed the bids.

In a statement, Bourgault said he still believes he should have qualified but accepts the party’s decision as final.

“There were documents that were submitted by our team to the Conservative party in the last days of the campaign that they deemed incorrect and in violation of Elections Canada requirements,” Bourgault said, though he did not specify the violations.

“These details were very minor and could have easily been corrected but there was no flexibility in their decision.”

He blamed the mistakes on a lack of clarity from both the party and Elections Canada, and said he is hoping to be able to return donations to his supporters.

Bourgault and Abraham both had the support of the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition, which was helping them raise donations right up to almost the last minute. CLC later alleged it was the candidates’ political views that kept them out of the race.

In his appeal, Etienne had made several allegations that the party threw multiple roadblocks in the way of his bid. Among other things, he alleged that his past work advocating on behalf of victims of the Chinese regime was being held against him by the party, and made references to the fact he is both Black and Jewish as being a source of tension.

In his statement Friday, he walked back those allegations.

“I will continue advocating, as I have for more than 35 years, that the best interests of racialized and Jewish Canadians are to be politically found by voting for the Conservative Party of Canada.”

In his appeal, Etienne had demanded a third-party audit of how the party determined his fees and signatures did not meet the rules.

But in a statement alongside Etienne’s, race organizer Ian Brodie said the matter is settled.

“We are pleased that all parties now have a full understanding of the situation. It was clear that all of the rules and procedures of this leadership contest were clearly followed,” he said.

Backlash to the three men’s seeming rejection led the party to take the unusual step this week of circulating a report from Brodie defending the leadership organizing committee’s actions.

The only step of the process where party officials had any discretion to disqualify a candidate was after the original interview, Brodie wrote.

Once they passed that, the only thing that would keep a candidate off the ballot was a failure to meet the money and signature benchmarks – and that’s what happened here.

“No one — not a single candidate — was disallowed because of their views or positions on any issue,” Brodie wrote.

“But, like everything else in life, an early start matters and late entrants run the risk of simply running out of time.”

Six candidates did make the ballot: Scott Aitchison, Roman Baber, Patrick Brown, Jean Charest, Leslyn Lewis and Pierre Poilievre.

They will face off in the first official leadership debate next week.

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