A battle is underway within the Conservative Party after the party’s fundraising arm (the Fund) decided to fire executive director Dustin van Vugt and launched an internal audit into how the party handles expenses.
The board’s decision to terminate van Vugt was communicated to him and within the party HQ on Friday, but almost immediately van Vugt’s supporters questioned whether the Fund has the power to out the executive director.
The move came less than 24 hours after Global News reported that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was using party money to help fund his children’s private school tuition, an arrangement van Vugt took responsibility for on Thursday. In a statement, van Vugt described the arrangement as “normal practice for political parties” and said “all proper procedures were followed and signed off on by the appropriate people.”
Multiple sources said the powerful seven-person board, which includes former prime minister Stephen Harper, decided to act, furious over the arrangement to pay for private religious schooling with donor money. Two sources with direct knowledge of Harper’s thinking described him as shocked and angry. Sources have told Global News others on the board were unaware as well and were also outraged.
Some inside the Conservative Party have challenged the assertion the board was not aware of the details and believe van Vugt, who is widely described as well-liked and capable, is being made into a scapegoat.
The anger over van Vugt’s firing is also triggering questions over the board’s ability to fire party staff.
The Conservative Party constitution says that the party leader appoints the executive director, which the elected governing National Council must then sign off on.
It is not clear who has the power to terminate an executive director in the constitution, but the document does not state the Fund can terminate senior staff and multiple Conservative sources say they do not have that power under the constitution.
Despite that, the Fund’s board of directors have previously fired an executive director. The Fund holds the purse strings and does have the power to stop paying the executive director.
On Friday night chaos and confusion spread through the party as an argument erupted over whether van Vugt’s firing was legitimate. The National Council had not signed off on the board’s decision and some sources said they were totally unaware it was coming.
Conservative insiders say Scheer is under pressure to terminate van Vugt now, or risk further wrath of influential party officials like Stephen Harper and Senator Linda Frum.
Some in the party question the timing, pointing out van Vugt would normally be the one organizing the impending leadership race.
Sources close to the Fund’s board and van Vugt both indicated to Global News they did not expect van Vugt would continue working for the party. One source close to van Vugt said he had no desire to continue working for the organization given how events unfolded in the last 48 hours.
Global News has spoken to multiple Conservative sources but is not disclosing their names because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The Conservative Party has not responded to repeated requests for comment on the status of van Vugt’s employment.