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Stronach team calls for delay of leadership vote

OTTAWA

nda Stronach's campaign for the Conservative leadership has demanded a delay in the vote amid complaints that thousands of party members are not being allowed to cast their ballots.

The complaint came yesterday, after the party was forced to reinstate 2,500 members who had been stricken from the membership list.

Officials from all three camps expressed anxiety about the March 20 leadership vote, fearing abuse and low turnout. However, opponents of Ms. Stronach also questioned her campaign team's tactics, wondering whether the call for a delay is a sign of desperation.

"I am writing to register our campaign's strong disapproval of the manner in which the party is processing and recording memberships," wrote John Laschinger, campaign director for Ms. Stronach.

"From coast to coast, legitimate paid-up members are being disenfranchised because of problems with the party lists. This is more than unfair. It strikes at the heart of our new party's effort to reach out and to broaden our base in order to win the next election."

The Stronach campaign filed a series of official protests this week over the fact that more than 10,000 new members had not been officially recognized.

The party reinstated about 2,500 this week, but the rest were rejected.

In his letter, Mr. Laschinger says that the party has erred in a number of areas. For example, he writes that several individuals who were on file with either the Canadian Alliance or the Progressive Conservatives, the merger partners in the new Conservative Party, have moved from their former addresses, but the party's computers have not picked up the change.

In the case of Bill and Rhea Springsted, the Stronach campaign sold separate one-year memberships to each. However, only Mr. Springsted ended up on the party list.

Mr. Laschinger added that Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey threatened through a lawyer to seek an injunction in an effort to have 300 Nova Scotia delegates put back on the list. Mr. Casey was unavailable for comment.

Tim Powers, a member of the party's leadership rules committee, said the party acknowledged a computer error affecting about 2,500 memberships, but the Stronach campaign offered no proof that another 7,500 individuals had been disenfranchised.

"We've received Mr. Laschinger's letter and we'll give it due consideration," he said.

Members of the other two camps said yesterday that they will not support a delay.

"Frankly, I think it's a request that can't be acceded to without doing damage to the party," said MP Scott Reid, a supporter of former Alliance leader Stephen Harper.

Former Ontario cabinet minister Tony Clement told CTV News last night that it would be unprecedented in the history of Canada to call for a delay.

One of his supporters was less charitable to Mr. Laschinger, saying he is signalling desperation by complaining at such a late date.

Party president Don Plett said the party has done its best to ensure everyone who is a member can vote, but "there's absolutely no way in the world that there are tens of thousands of memberships out there that aren't valid."

One MP told The Globe and Mail that turnout could be affected because members will have only four hours in which to cast their ballots. In British Columbia, a Harper stronghold, party members will be asked to vote between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m.

"I think there are many of us, particularly from B.C., Alberta and the western provinces [who] feel the votes are restrictive," said James Rajotte.

Another MP said yesterday that voters in his Atlantic riding are upset with a fax-voting system that forces them to provide three pieces of identification before being allowed to vote.

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