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Kevin O’Leary calls for Conservative Party to recount digital ballots

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier(right)gives the thumbs up to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in the House of Commons during Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday, May 29, 2017

Fred Chartrand/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Former Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary is calling on the federal party to recount the digital imprints of its ballots so that newly elected Leader Andrew Scheer doesn't start his job with a "cloud" hanging over his head.

Mr. O'Leary, who dropped out of the leadership race in April and endorsed then-front-runner Maxime Bernier, told The Globe and Mail that he sees "no reason why a recount shouldn't occur."

"As a member and a former candidate, I would prefer that a recount be done because I think it clears a cloud that is obviously brewing at this point," Mr. O'Leary said in an interview.

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Related: New concerns emerge over Conservative leadership voting process

Related: Bernier camp casts doubt on Conservative leadership vote

Mr. O'Leary's calls for a recount comes as a senior member of Mr. Bernier's leadership team described the party's voting process as a "fiasco" that left some members disenfranchised. The dispute threatens to undermine Mr. Scheer's legitimacy less than two weeks into the job.

Although Mr. Bernier previously told The Globe the party must offer a clear explanation about the voting process, early Tuesday evening he tweeted: "As I stated on election night: I support our new leader Andrew Scheer. Unconditionally."

Former Conservative cabinet minister Jay Hill, who was Mr. Bernier's co-chair for Western Canada, posted a Facebook statement describing how he was unable to vote in the leadership contest, which was won by Mr. Scheer in the May 27 vote by a razor-thin margin.

"Despite being a a member of one of the legacy parties since 1987 (The Reform Party of Canada), an MP for 17 years and a cabinet minister for PM Stephen Harper, AND contacting the party THREE times about my-yet-to-arrive ballot … I NEVER received a ballot," Mr. Hill wrote. "I wonder how many other members were left disenfranchised by this fiasco?"

Mr. Hill said he spoke to a party official about his mail-in ballot and was reassured that it would be sent to him by priority post, but it never happened.

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Mr. O'Leary, who remained on the ticket and finished with 1.07 per cent of the vote on the first ballot, said he didn't agree with the decision to destroy the paper ballots immediately after the vote and believes the party should now review the digital copies.

"I favour transparency. It always works," he said.

Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann, however, said there will be no review. "The rules clearly state that once the vote is verified by the Chief Returning Officer and by the independent auditor, they are final and binding," he said in an e-mail.

Mr. O'Leary's comments come as the party grapples with a series of complaints made by the Bernier camp and an official from the Kellie Leitch campaign. The Conservative Party says 141,362 voters were counted at the May 27 vote, but a list provided to the campaigns shows 133,896 votes tallied.

Mr. Bernier – who lead the voting until the final 13th ballot – has called on the party to explain the 7,466-vote discrepancy in the final ballot count. Party officials describe the discrepancy as a data-entry issue because those who voted in person were not on the list of the mailed-in ballots, and volunteers may have made mistakes as they entered more than 140,000 names.

In a follow-up interview, Mr. Hill called on the party to investigate the spoiled or missing ballots. According to the party, there were 10,429 spoiled or incomplete ballots.

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"I think the party owes their membership an explanation. And furthermore, I think that the party owes Mr. Scheer an explanation … his potential credibility is damaged because of this. They should explain to him how this happened and how it will never happen again," he said.

He added that Mr. Scheer should also be calling on the party to explain. "He should be insisting upon a more thorough review of what happened," Mr. Hill said.

Mr. Hann apologized to Mr. Hill but said the party stands by the voting process. Mr. Hann noted the party's constitution outlines which voting system to use, and members will have the chance to amend it at the policy convention next year in Halifax.

"Our apologies to Jay Hill that he never received his ballot in the mail. Our records show we mailed him a ballot on April 21, and a replacement ballot after we heard from him, and we sincerely regret that it did not arrive," Mr. Hann said in an e-mail.

"We mailed over 259,000 ballots, and of those about 1.1 per cent were returned by Canada Post as undeliverable or return to sender."

Not all leadership candidates are expressing displeasure with the process.

Erin O'Toole, who finished third in the race, said he is satisfied with the vote and fully supports Mr. Scheer. So far, none of the 13 candidates, including Mr. Bernier, have lodged a formal complaint with the party.

Chris Rougier, who worked as Mr. O'Leary's campaign manager and later joined Mr. Bernier's team to help with the get-out-the-vote effort, said he's satisfied with the party's explanation.

"It doesn't surprise me that these types of human errors happen," Mr. Rougier said. "This is more or less some sore losers who are trying to cause problems where there aren't any."

While Conservative Party president Scott Lamb told The Globe last week the results of the race were "audited" by Deloitte, former Conservative MP Bob Dechert, who supervised the vote for the Leitch team, said the level of oversight was far lower.

The Conservative Party acknowledged on Tuesday that Deloitte did not formally audit the leadership vote results.

Dan Nowlan, chairman of the leadership election organizing committee, said Mr. Lamb misspoke. "They would never audit a process like this. That wouldn't happen," Mr. Nowlan said. But he said Deloitte monitored the count room and observed counting of the ballots.

For his part, Mr. O'Leary said he stands by Mr. Scheer as leader and hasn't spoken to Mr. Bernier since the day after the vote.

Mr. Scheer's office has declined to comment on the allegations, calling them a party matter.

Video: Andrew Scheer targets Liberals on first day in House as Conservative leader (The Canadian Press)
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About the Authors
Ottawa Bureau Chief

Robert Fife is The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief and the host of CTV's "Question Period with The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife." He uncovered the Senate expense scandal, setting the course for an RCMP investigation, audits and reform of Senate expense rules. In 2012, he exposed the E. More

Parliamentary reporter

Laura Stone is a reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau. She joined The Globe in February 2016. Before that, she was an online and TV reporter for Global News in Ottawa. Laura has done stints at the Toronto Star, Postmedia News and the Vancouver Province. More

Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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