Bernier calls ri­val O’Leary a loser as Tories in­ves­ti­gate vote-rig­ging claims

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - NATIONAL -

OTTAWA — The pre­sumed front-run­ners in the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship race are go­ing for each other’s jugu­lar, with Maxime Bernier dis­miss­ing Kevin O’Leary as a “loser” after the celebrity busi­ness­man lev­elled ac­cu­sa­tions of fraud and vote-rig­ging.

O’Leary is­sued a state­ment late Thurs­day ac­cus­ing an uniden­ti­fied cam­paign of try­ing to buy its way to the top by us­ing un­trace­able pre­paid credit cards to sign up “fake” party mem­bers with­out their knowl­edge, con­trary to party rules.

Sources say Bernier’s cam­paign is the al­leged cul­prit.

The party is now in­ves­ti­gat­ing the al­le­ga­tions, in­clud­ing a re­view of credit card logs from all cam­paigns.

Bernier fired back Fri­day, pulling no punches in a bluntly worded fundrais­ing email to party mem­bers.

“Kevin O’Leary is a loser. I’m a win­ner,” Bernier said.

“He knows my cam­paign has raised more money, signed up more mem­bers, has more sup­port­ers and more vol­un­teers. He’s a bad can­di­date. In­stead of try­ing to win peo­ple over by putting out a plat­form, he’s throw­ing mud to try to save his cam­paign.”

While he’s been build­ing “an army of sup­port­ers,” Bernier said O’Leary has been “va­ca­tion­ing in Florida, film­ing in L.A. and shilling on a home shop­ping chan­nel try­ing to sell his line of O’Leary wine to Amer­i­can buy­ers. It’s not even avail­able in Canada.”

O’Leary, mean­while, is­sued his own state­ment Fri­day in an at­tempt to en­list the other can­di­dates in his fight against what he says is a fraud­u­lent mem­ber­ship scam con­cocted by “sketchy in­sid­ers.”

“I ap­plaud the Con­ser­va­tive party for launch­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but that is not enough,” he said.

“To­day, I am ask­ing the 13 other can­di­dates to put pol­i­tics aside. I am call­ing on you to join to­gether with me to fight back against this scam by de­mand­ing the party throw out these fal­si­fied mem­ber­ships.”

Lisa Raitt echoed the call for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion but other con­tenders seemed un­sym­pa­thetic.

An­drew Sax­ton and Rick Peter­son chal­lenged O’Leary, who has par­tic­i­pated in just two lead­er­ship de­bates, to par­tic­i­pate in fu­ture de­bates if he’s so con­cerned about pro­mot­ing democ­racy.

Kel­lie Leitch sug­gested it’s a bit rich for O’Leary “to cast as­per­sions on the other can­di­dates in this race with­out a shred of ev­i­dence” when he’s the only can­di­date who’s been fined by the party — for re­fus­ing to at­tend a bilin­gual de­bate in Ed­mon­ton.

“You need to put up or shut up Kevin,” she tweeted.

Brad Trost also called on O’Leary to pro­vide proof of his al­le­ga­tions, im­me­di­ately and pub­licly.

“If this is noth­ing but a pub­lic­ity stunt and Mr. O’Leary has no ev­i­dence, then he should be sanc­tioned to the great­est ex­tent pos­si­ble by the party,” Trost said.

The al­leged scheme in­volves peo­ple on the On­tario Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive party mem­ber­ship list be­ing signed up as mem­bers of the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive party, pos­si­bly with­out their knowl­edge.

Sev­eral peo­ple who are part of Bernier’s cam­paign team were also in­volved in Pa­trick Brown’s win­ning cam­paign for the pro­vin­cial PC lead­er­ship in 2015.

Con­ser­va­tive party spokesman Cory Hann said Thurs­day that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der­way.

LARS HAGBERG/ THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­date Kevin O’Leary speaks at Queen’s Univer­sity, in Kingston, Ont., on Thurs­day.

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