Bernier calls rival O’Leary a loser as Tories investigate vote-rigging claims
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.
Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary speaks at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ont., on Thursday.