The Alberta Progressive Conservative Party has now given the bum’s rush to Shiraz Shariff, the 30-year party supporter and former MLA who had the unmitigated cheek to defeat Ken Hughes, the premier’s anointed candidate in Calgary West, in the riding’s Jan. 28 nomination vote.
The PC Party “received several written complaints about the eligibility of some of those who voted in the recent nomination for Calgary West,” Party President Bill Smith said in a terse news release late yesterday morning. Nevertheless, according to the release, the party “does not hold any one candidate or campaign responsible for the unfortunate situation.”
Just the same, Mr. Shariff – who wasn’t mentioned by name in the release and who says he was never asked any questions in the investigation conducted by interim party Executive Director Kelley Charlebois – is out, his nomination officially “disallowed.” Someone else will soon be in.
Mr. Smith’s release explained that because of tight timelines, the party has asked “the duly elected PC Board of Calgary West to consider possible candidates and submit three names from which the Leader can choose.” Presumably, Mr. Shariff’s name will be nowhere near that list when the constituency board examines it on Feb. 16.
The “review of memberships” that resulted in Mr. Shariff’s removal was Mr. Charleobois’s first brush with controversy since he took on the executive director job a month after Premier Alison Redford’s victory over front-runner Gary Mar in the party leadership race. He is not, however, a complete stranger to controversy.
Back in 2002 and 2003, the former executive assistant to Mr. Mar became the topic of embarrassing questions in the Legislature when it was revealed he had been paid nearly $400,000 over two years through an untendered contract for “oral advice” to Mr. Mar when he was health minister in 2002 and 2003.
Now, you may be thinking: “Hold it! This isn’t the way a democracy’s supposed to work!”
More than likely, that’s also precisely what they thought in Premier Redford’s office when they received the news of the nomination of Mr. Shariff, who back in 2008 was defeated by a Liberal as the MLA for the Calgary McCall riding.
After all, the successful nomination of someone not favoured by head office is indeed not the way democracy is supposed to work in Alberta. The very idea of an upstart winning a nomination over a favoured candidate is unheard of in these parts! In what passes for polite society hereabouts, that would be considered about as seemly as a general election being won by a party other than the Progressive Conservatives!
Remember, Mr. Hughes, the former chair of Alberta Health Services, had stepped down from his influential position at the head of the $12-billion public agency on Dec. 28 to seek the nomination in the riding. He had the apparent blessing of the premier, to whom he is said to be close, to replace the retiring incumbent MLA, Finance Minister Ron Liepert.
Tout le monde political Alberta simply assumed Mr. Hughes’s success was thus a deadbolt cinch. There was even talk that after his automatic election, he’d march right into Premier Redford’s cabinet and take up the reins of the massive province-wide health care system once again.
And now that Mr. Shariff’s inconvenient selection has been reversed, perhaps the Alberta universe is once again unfolding as God (who was mentioned four times in two lines of the government’s Throne Speech on Tuesday) intended.
Indeed, Mr. Hughes told the Calgary Herald yesterday that if the party desired his name on the ballot, “I’m willing to serve.” He also said it wasn’t his campaign team that made the complaint.
Still, that might be too much even for Alberta voters, who for the past 40 years have been prepared to put up with pretty well anything from the Conservative Party. Maybe that accounts for the buzz yesterday afternoon that Farouk Adatia, CFO of Ms. Redford’s leadership campaign who was defeated in his bid for the Calgary-Hawkwood nomination, might now be the anointed one in Calgary West.
For his part, Mr. Shariff was conceding nothing last night. “The nomination process for Calgary West was credible and set out by the constituency board, comprised of committed and competent volunteers, such as Dr. Ryan Carter, brother of the Premier’s chief of staff,” Stephen Carter, he said in a statement. In it, he noted that he and his volunteers had suspected from the start the party was biased against him.
“My campaign was run fairly,” Mr. Shariff stated. “It was run with integrity and we followed the process. Other candidates … also stated their acceptance of the process, the fairness and the outcome. Most importantly, security on the day of the vote ensured that no one could cast a ballot without first proving residency in Calgary West with two pieces of identification.”
Indeed, Mr. Shariff told your blogger yesterday, none other than Mr. Liepert sat on the credentials desk and reported no irregularities.
Mr. Shariff said he has never been given any indication what irregularities are supposed to have taken place. He challenged the party to tell the public what – and whom – they are complaining about. He asked: “What is there to hide? And if it is somebody else’s fault, why do I have to suffer?”
Mr. Shariff also said he asked the party yesterday for arbitration, as set out in the PC constitution, but that he was told by Mr. Charlebois “that avenue is not available any more.” The ballots have been destroyed.
Since there is to be no arbitration process, Mr. Shariff added, he is challenging the party to hold a new nomination vote. “Let another nomination be held! I’ll be there!”
Despite his anger at the process by which he was deprived of his nomination, Mr. Shariff said he would not consider running in the riding as an Independent. “I’m a Conservative and I’m not going away!” However, he warned that without the redress he is seeking, the party’s reputation as an open and democratic institution is bound to suffer. “The image of our party is at stake.”
“Regardless of the decision taken today by the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, the ultimate decision was made by the constituents of Calgary West on Jan. 21st 2012 where I was democratically elected with a majority vote as their PC representative,” Mr. Shariff’s statement concluded.
Ironically, if the provincial party had responded the same way to the unexpected election of a candidate not favoured by the party establishment in October 2011, Gary Mar would now presumably be premier of Alberta.
One of the many factors that helped derail Mr. Mar’s efforts to become the premier, oddly enough, was his relationship with Mr. Charlebois, who is now cast in the role of party inquisitor in the strange case of Mr. Shariff and the eligibility concerns for which no one is being held responsible.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.