TORONTO — Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown admits some would-be candidates for the 2018 Ontario election are not getting past the PC vetting process, but he insists it's good for the Tories to have so many people wanting to run.
There have been complaints from rejected candidates and some longtime party members about interference in the nomination process from PC headquarters, especially from some eastern Ontario ridings.
Derek Duval said he was rejected as a PC candidate in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell after party officials complained about a locker room video he posted online showing a young man eating poutine off of a hockey stick.
"During my call with the party I was grilled by party employee Garfield Dunlop ... who accused me of filming someone eating a hamster off of a hockey stick," Duval posted on Facebook.
Dunlop resigned as the MPP for Simcoe North so Brown could run for a seat in the legislature, and was later hired by the party leader to be a special adviser.
Brown insisted Monday that the video wasn't the reason Duval was disqualified as a candidate, and said it was the party's right to make sure potential representatives would not embarrass the Progressive Conservative brand.
"I heard the reasons for the disqualification, and the alleged hamster had nothing to do with it," said Brown.
Duval, who claimed he signed up 1,200 new PC members, said Brown tired to catch him by surprise by moving up the date for the nomination meeting because the party wanted lawyer and local councillor Amanda Simard as its candidate. Simard won the nomination.
The Tories had said nominations for 2018 would start in Jan. 2017, but Brown said they were moved up because he wants all candidates nominated six months before election day in June 2018, which means by the end 2017.
"We'll be doing ten nominations a month for the next year," he said. "We do some pretty extensive vetting, and that means there will be candidates that get disqualified."
The newest member of the PC caucus, 19-year-old Sam Oosterhoff — who won a Nov. 17 byelection in Niagara West-Glanbrook — has social conservative views that run counter to Brown's attempts to rebrand the Tories as a more open and inclusive party.
Brown admitted would-be PC candidates are asked about their views on a range of topics, but he wouldn't say if they can be rejected for having social conservative opinions on issues such as gay rights and sex education.
"We do our best to make sure that candidates share the values we're putting forward, and so there's a variety of things a candidate can be disqualified for," he said. "But that's an internal process."
Brown said every PC riding association is larger than it was before, sometimes with thousands of members where there used to be hundreds, and nomination battles where there used to be acclamations, so he's confident voters are ready to get rid of the Liberal government.
"The fact we're in a position where we've had more interested candidates than we've ever had before speaks to that appetite for change that there is in the province today," he said. "I think the level of excitement and energy we're seeing from the candidates in the nominations is a great thing and I welcome it."
The Liberals plan to start the 2018 nominations 'soon' and the NDP is expected to launch the process next month.
Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press