OTTAWA – The former provincial cabinet minister challenging Rob Anders for the Conservative nomination in Calgary says Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apparent endorsement of the controversial MP isn’t “going to make any difference.”
Ron Liepert – who served variously as finance, energy and health minister in Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government – said he believes Anders will lose the nomination in the newly-created Calgary Signal Hill riding when the vote takes place later in April.
“I don’t really think it’s going to make any difference. People on the membership list have clearly made up their mind. They’re throwing him out,” Liepert said.
“We won’t have to put up with him much longer.”
Harper is quoted as describing Anders as “a strong voice” and a “valued member of the team” in a release posted on Anders’ nomination website Monday. Although Anders apparently later backtracked on using the term “endorsement,” the original news released was back on the site later in the day.
“The Road to 2015 is one that needs strong, stable leadership and I’ve been able to count on Rob to get real results for his riding and our country,” Harper is quoted as saying.
Liepert said Harper’s comments amount to a “pretty tepid endorsement.”
“You can go out and get endorsements from whomever you want, but at the end of the day, as long as people are given opportunity to come and cast a ballot, then it doesn’t really matter what endorsements you’ve got,” he said.
Liepert noted Harper’s quote was posted after membership sales were closed.
“In all of my close to 40 years in political life, I have never come across a situation when an elected official was so hated by people. And I never use that word – hate. But I can tell you that is a word that describes how people talk about Rob Anders here.”
Liepert added that he has discussed the nomination with Dimitri Soudas, the Conservative party’s executive director, on several occasions. “I have no concerns that the party’s going to run a fair and open nomination,” he said.
Liepert said he didn’t want to speculate on why Harper supports Anders.
“This is sort of my first foray into federal politics. Maybe it’s standard practice, I don’t know, I’m just saying that I’m not going to spend a lot of time worrying about it, that’s for sure.”
A Conservative party spokesman did not immediately reply to questions as to whether Harper will be endorsing other candidates. Cory Hann said earlier Monday the quote “reflects the Prime Minister’s views about his caucus member.”
Anders did not immediately respond to request for comment.
But he did release a statement on his website concerning allegations Liepert made to CBC that Anders was making impersonating phone calls in the riding.
“We all know that Ron Liepert is part of an ultra-partisan, liberal group who has lost several nomination campaigns in this riding and is now desperately trying to subvert our democratic process. The final word belongs to the people,” Anders said in a statement.
First elected to Calgary West in 1997, Anders, 41, has easily won six elections since.
Liepert announced in January he would be running for the nomination after a group of concerned citizens launched a website called timetodobetter.ca, designed to re-engage federal Conservatives in Calgary.
The nomination vote hasn’t been called yet, Liepert said, but according to rules in the party’s constitution it must take place between April 10 and 15.
“The entire country is going to be watching this nomination with great interest, and that’s why I believe the party will hold to its commitment to an open nomination process, because this riding will be the bellwether for how they’re going to conduct the rest of the nominations throughout the year,” said Liepert.
“This guy is such a lightning rod that if it not only isn’t seen to be fair … people are going to jump all over them.”