The federal Conservatives are refusing to let former cabinet minister Steven Fletcher run under the Tory banner in the next election.
Fletcher wants to win back his old Winnipeg riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, a seat he held for more than a decade before losing it in 2015 to Liberal Doug Eyolfson.
But he says he got an email Thursday from the party’s executive director, Dustin Van Vugt, saying his bid to seek the nomination had been rejected, without any explanation.
“This decision was made pursuant to the Conservative Party of Canada nominations rules and procedures as adopted by the national council of the Conservative Party of Canada and the constitution of the Conservative Party of Canada,” Van Vugt wrote.
Fletcher ran for the provincial Tories in Manitoba after losing his federal seat and won in 2016, but a year later was booted out of that caucus for publicly breaking with the party on a number of policies, including voting against a bill to create a Crown corporation on energy efficiency.
Fletcher also believes his support for Maxime Bernier in last year’s federal leadership race is “probably” a factor – and while he is appealing the decision, he has not ruled out running as an independent.
“At this point, it is my hope that Andrew Scheer will sort it out and allow the grassroots to make that decision,” Fletcher said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
A Conservative source close to the nomination process said the decision had nothing to do with Fletcher supporting Bernier, who finished a very close second to Scheer during the leadership race.
He pointed to a number of other Bernier supporters who have been approved, including former Winnipeg MP Lawrence Toet who was Bernier’s campaign co-chair in Manitoba but has been nominated already to run in Elmwood-Transcona.
The source, who spoke only on the condition he not be identified, would not however get into the actual reasons for Fletcher’s denial. Fletcher served as a minister of state in then-prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet between 2008 and 2013 before being shuffled out and has since developed a reputation as a maverick, publicly defying his party and supporting the case for legalizing medically assisted dying.
He currently sits as an independent MLA in Manitoba and last week lost a court challenge in which he tried to overturn a Manitoba law that prevents MLAs from crossing the floor to a different party without resigning and running under the new party banner in a byelection.
Bill Eva, the federal riding association president, said the local riding green-lighted Fletcher’s candidacy for the nomination months ago and he believed the federal party had as well. Eva said two other candidates have also been approved.
Winnipeg city councillor Marty Morantz has submitted nomination papers as has Stephen Barber, a policy analyst at Manitoba Health.
“Steven is a popular, well-liked guy,” said Eva, who learned of the decision from the media.
He said Fletcher’s vocal opposition to Manitoba’s carbon tax and energy-efficiency Crown corporation fit better with the federal party than the provincial Tories.
“So to the extent that makes him unpopular with the provincial Conservative party, I’m not sure it would necessarily make him unpopular with the federal Conservative party,” Eva said.
A spokesman for the party said Fletcher is still within the application process and had no further comment.
Fletcher’s appeal will be heard by the party’s national council.
– With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg