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Tories veto candidate's nomination

An outspoken social conservative has been denied a chance to run for the Alberta Progressive Conservative party, as the country's oldest reigning political dynasty readies for a tough election expected to be called in the coming month.

Craig Chandler said in an interview yesterday that the rare decision by the Conservatives' executive committee on the weekend to not accept his constituency nomination is undemocratic and makes him a "martyr" for the province's social conservatives.

The 37-year-old businessman and former Reform candidate said he will decide midweek whether to align himself with another right-wing political party or run as an independent. He said he expects other social conservatives may also flee the Conservative party. "I see social conservatives looking for a home. We are people, too," he said.

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An election is expected to be called for as early as February.

The Chandler controversy has dogged the Tories, which have held power for 36 years, since the former head of Concerned Christians Canada handily won the party nomination for Calgary-Egmont last month.

Many Conservatives were privately worried Mr. Chandler would bring too much political baggage to an election campaign. Since Premier Ed Stelmach won the party leadership race last December, his government has struggled in the polls.

Earlier this year, a settlement arranged by the Canadian Human Rights Commission forced Mr. Chandler to publish an apology for anti-gay comments made on a radio show that he co-hosts.

Mr. Chandler has also been linked to an anti-gay controversy at the centre of a recent Alberta Human Rights Commission ruling. Last Friday, the commission announced that a letter written by a pastor of the Concerned Christians Canada, an organization founded by Mr. Chandler, had broken provincial human rights law. The commission also suggested the letter, which was entitled "Homosexual agenda wicked," may have played a role in the beating of a gay Alberta teenager.

Mr. Chandler said he no longer belongs to the group and had nothing to do with the letter, which was printed in a Red Deer newspaper five years ago. "That letter is nothing that I agree with."

The married father of two plans to release evidence, including e-mails, this week that allegedly show the Premier's office worked hard to have his nomination bid defeated. Mr. Chandler, who estimates spending $127,000 and countless hours securing the nomination, said that if the Tories didn't want him, they should have rejected his candidacy.

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The decision to turn down his nomination was made during a closed-door meeting held in Red Deer and attended by the party's 40-member executive and Premier Stelmach. Mr. Chandler was allowed to attend a portion of the proceedings.

Mr. Stelmach later told reporters that he is a "strong believer in human rights" and that Mr. Chandler's nomination "would not be in the best interest" of the party. The Premier said that the reasons for the decision will remain confidential and that party rules prohibit him from discussing what happened at the meeting.

Mark Lisac, publisher and editor of Insight into Government, a weekly newsletter about Alberta politics, said the decision is unlikely to affect the Tories' overall popularity. However, he said, it sheds light on problems the party is having with its various factions and he was surprised party officials allowed the situation to "develop to the point it did."

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