Jean raises con­cerns over UCP lead­er­ship vot­ing process

Fort McMurray Today - - ALBERTA NEWS - JAMES WOOD jwood@post­media.com

Lead­er­ship can­di­date Brian Jean sounded the alarm over the elec­tronic vot­ing sys­tem in the United Con­ser­va­tive Party’s lead­er­ship con­test, say­ing Wed­nes­day thou­sands of party mem­bers may not be able to vote be­cause they aren’t reg­is­tered with the party.

But with the dead­line for party mem­bers to reg­is­ter less than two days away, UCP of­fi­cials say the process is run­ning smoothly aside from a few hic­cups.

To select the new party’s first leader, UCP mem­bers will vote on­line or by phone in the three-day pe­riod end­ing Oct. 28. UCPers had to have their party mem­ber­ship by Sept. 29 and then reg­is­ter, pro­vid­ing proof of iden­tity, by 5 p.m. this Fri­day, ei­ther by mail or on­line.

But in a news re­lease and Face­book video re­leased Wed­nes­day, Jean said that un­der the “com­pli­cated” and “cum­ber­some” sys­tem, many mem­bers don’t even re­al­ize they have to reg­is­ter as the sec­ond step in the process.

Many of those who do try to reg­is­ter are en­coun­ter­ing tech­ni­cal problems, es­pe­cially in ru­ral Al­berta where In­ter­net ser­vice is slower, said the Fort Mc­Mur­ray-Con­klin MLA and for­mer Wil­drose leader.

“Un­for­tu­nately, our party com­mit­tee has cho­sen a lead­er­ship elec­tion sys­tem where, if things don’t change, over 40,000 party mem­bers may not be able to vote,” said Jean.

“I’m not happy at all with the sys­tem. It’s not built to be easy for mem­bers.”

The UCP is not of­fi­cially re­leas­ing mem­ber­ship num­bers, though Ed Am­mar, chair of the party’s joint in­terim board, said last week the party’s ranks num­ber about 115,000 mem­bers.

The party’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Jan­ice Har­ring­ton, re­jected the con­tention there are problems with the sys­tem beyond a few stum­bling blocks.

In an in­ter­view, she said there were al­ready 50,000 mem­bers reg­is­tered by Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, with party staff reg­is­ter­ing mem­bers at a rate of seven per minute.

“Con­sid­er­ing that past lead­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence have shown that 65 per cent of mem­bers at most par­tic­i­pate, I’m very con­fi­dent that as many mem­bers who want to reg­is­ter will get reg­is­tered,” said Har­ring­ton.

“It’s work­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily well, ac­tu­ally.”

Har­ring­ton said less than eight per cent of mem­ber­ships had been re­jected, mainly be­cause the mem­bers hadn’t pro­vided re­quired in­for­ma­tion. Party staff work with those mem­bers to en­sure they can reg­is­ter, she said.

The UCP has also worked hard to en­sure mem­bers know they must reg­is­ter, to the point that the party has an­noyed some mem­bers be­cause of too much con­tact, said Har­ring­ton, adding that cam­paigns also play a role in spread­ing the in­for­ma­tion.

The other lead­er­ship cam­paigns ac­knowl­edged some is­sues with the regis­tra­tion process, though they de­clined to crit­i­cize the party.

Evan Le­gate, cam­paign man­ager for Cal­gary lawyer Doug Sch­weitzer, said in an in­ter­view there is “very low aware­ness” of the regis­tra­tion dead­line and the cam­paign has been hear­ing “frus­tra­tions” about the sys­tem.

“There’s def­i­nitely been some tech­ni­cal is­sues, but we un­der­stand the need for the vote to be se­cure and fol­low the guide­lines,” he said.

Blaise Boehmer, spokesman for for­mer Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive leader Ja­son Ken­ney, said the cam­paign has set up 30 kiosks across the prov­ince to help mem­bers reg­is­ter.

He said in an email state­ment that Jean had pushed for an early lead­er­ship vote in the unity dis­cus­sions between the Wil­drose and PC par­ties that led to the for­ma­tion of the UCP, which helped lead to the cur­rent sys­tem.

“While the vot­ing sys­tem es­tab­lished by the party is not what we pre­ferred, we’re do­ing our best to en­fran­chise ev­ery UCP mem­ber in this very im­por­tant vote. Crit­i­ciz­ing the sys­tem seems coun­ter­pro­duc­tive at this point,” said Boehmer.

DAVID BLOOM/POST­MEDIA NEWS

Wil­drose Party leader Brian Jean, left, and Al­berta PC leader Ja­son Ken­ney.

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