Poilievre camp raises concerns over membership ‘fraud’ in Conservative race

Click to play video: 'CPC leadership race: Poilievre facing stiffer than expected competition'
CPC leadership race: Poilievre facing stiffer than expected competition
WATCH: Two heavyweights in the Conservative leadership race rallied supporters in two provinces that could be key in deciding who becomes the next leader of the official opposition. As David Akin reports, favourite Pierre Poilievre is getting some stiffer than expected competition from Patrick Brown and Jean Charest – Mar 26, 2022

Pierre Poilievre is raising concerns over potential “fraud” in the Conservative leadership race, demanding the ban of pre-paid credit cards to purchase memberships.

In a letter sent to the party Tuesday, obtained by Global News, a lawyer for the Poilievre campaign suggested the use of pre-paid credit cards to purchase memberships violated party rules.

And if the party refuses to ban them — and cancel any memberships purchased with them since Feb. 2 — the Poilievre campaign hinted it would see them in court.

“As we have repeatedly explained, our candidate does not fear losing a fair election,” the letter, sent by Bennett Jones partner Robert Staley, read.

“Instead, our candidate is concerned that the leadership might be won by a candidate who has openly acknowledged cheating, and appears unconstrained by integrity and rules in his pursuit of political offices.”

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The Poilievre campaign provided no evidence of alleged fraud, nor did Staley’s letter accuse any rival campaign of buying memberships — and eligible voters for September’s leadership vote.

But the letter quoted candidate Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton and former Ontario PC leader, acknowledging that “everyone knows” that candidates buy memberships for their supporters and likening the practice to “jaywalking.”

“Patrick Brown has described the illegal buying of memberships for people in a political race as normal as ‘jaywalking.’ It is not normal, it is serious and it is illegal,” wrote Anthony Koch, a spokesperson for the Poilievre campaign.

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“To prevent cheating we have asked LEOC to enforce the CPC membership by-laws.”

In response, the Brown campaign pointed to a compliance agreement Poilievre signed with the Commissioner of Canada Elections in 2017, after wearing a Conservative-branded shirt during a funding announcement while he was a cabinet minister.

The commissioner found that Poilievre’s intention of wearing CPC-branded clothing was to improperly link the party to government payments to parents, and Poilievre admitted he should’ve worn a suit.

“How will Pierre Poilievre ever be able to hold Justin Trudeau to account when (he) uses the same unethical playbook that Trudeau does?,” wrote Jeff Silverstein, a spokesperson for the Brown campaign, in an email to Global News.

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“Our campaign will continue to abide by all rules set out by the Conservative Party and Elections Canada. And we will win.”

A source close to Brown, who agreed to talk about internal campaign matters on the condition they not be named, told Global Tuesday they anticipated the line of attack, given previous allegations against Brown about membership irregularities.

The source said they were actively discouraging organizers from signing up new members using pre-paid cards.

Pre-paid credit cards have been a perennial issue in Conservative leadership races. They have been allowed in past races, despite concerns that organizers could use them to sign up eligible leadership voters without requiring them to pay the $15 fee using a personal cheque or credit card — and thus be easily verified by party brass.

In the 2017 leadership race, frontrunner Kevin O’Leary accused an unnamed rival camp — widely believed to be Maxime Bernier, who O’Leary later supported — of using the cards to sign up fake members. The party later struck 1,351 names from its membership roll after an internal investigation.

The party’s executive director, Wayne Benson, sent a memo to all Conservative leadership campaigns Monday that the party would continue to accept pre-paid cards, but would be watching them closely.

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“We work closely with our service provider, reviewing all transaction details, in order to assist in our fraud prevention activity,” Benson wrote in the letter, which he provided to Global News.

“Memberships purchased, whether by personal or pre-paid credit card, that are not in compliance with our (rules) will not be permitted.”

But the Poilievre campaign wrote Tuesday that the memo suggested “no proactive steps” will be taken by the party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) to prevent the use of pre-paid credit cards to purchase memberships.

The Poilievre camp demanded that any memberships purchased with pre-paid cards since Feb. 2 be cancelled, and to require that all memberships be purchased either with personal cheque or a personal credit card. If the party’s payment processer cannot accommodate those demands, the Poilievre campaign recommended finding a new one.

“Absent an acceptable response by the close of business on April 14, 2022, our campaign will take appropriate steps to require the party comply with the Membership By-Law,” the letter read.

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