Paul Tuns:

Dave MacKenzie resigned his Oxford seat in southwestern Ontario in December 2022, leading to a highly competitive race to replace the long-time MP in what is considered a safe Conservative riding. Among the candidates seeking the party’s nomination was Gerrit Van Dorland, a Parliament Hill staffer green-lit as pro-life by Campaign Life Coalition as pro-life and endorsed by former Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis. On March 16, he was informed that he was disqualified as a candidate.

Party spokeswoman Sarah Fischer told the Canadian Press that Van Dorland failed to provide a complete list of social media accounts and comments he made online or in media interviews – including deleted posts and comments. She also told reporters, “The recommendation to disqualify this individual was first made by the local candidate nomination committee.” A subcommittee of National Council responsible for candidate nominations then disqualified him.

A spokesman for Van Dorland said his campaign was not provided a reason for the disqualification and took issue with the suggestion that they did not provide all requisite information for candidates. A statement provided by the campaign said it appealed the decision to the Conservative Party National Council.

CLC urged pro-life supporters of the party to contact National Council members to urge the reinstatement of Van Dorland as a candidate.

Van Dorland, who worked as an executive assistant in the House of Commons, says on his website he is committed to faith, family, and freedom, and pledges to “stand up for the dignity and sanctity of human life.”

Jeff Gunnarson, CLC national president, said in an eblast to the organization’s supporters, “We believe it was primarily because of Gerrit’s pro-life beliefs, and secondarily because Pierre Poilievre had his own preferred candidate in the race, a former staffer of his.”

Gunnarson said, “With Poilievre coming on as the new CPC Leader, and his promises of open nominations, respect for democracy, and his pledge to ‘remove the gatekeepers,’ we thought things would be different than it was under Erin O’Toole and Andrew Scheer” and “We certainly hoped Poilievre wouldn’t become a ‘gatekeeper’ himself, blocking popular grassroots conservatives from being able to run.”

Gunnarson said he hoped that “discrimination against social conservative nomination candidates” was a thing of the past for the party, but apparently not.

Gunnarson noted that Poilievre violated the party’s internal rules. The Conservative leader endorsed Arpan Khanna, who serves as Poilievre’s national outreach co-ordinator. Party rules say that members of National Council must remain neutral in local nomination races and Poilievre, as leader of the party, is on National Council.

Khanna criticized the disqualification on his social media accounts: “My strong view is that everyone should be allowed to freely and fairly contest this nomination, and that local members should decide who their candidate will be.” In an open letter to National Council, he called on the party “to do the right thing” and reinstate Van Dorland’s candidacy.

Another nomination candidate, Rick Roth – the husband of Ginny Roth who served as the Poilievre leadership campaign’s policy advisor — said the party is setting “a dangerous path of ignoring the grassroots” in favour of what he called “a preferred parachute candidate,” adding in a statement: “Whether the party sees it or not, Gerrit represents and has the support of a massive community here in Oxford.”

There has been no comment from the fourth candidate, Deb Tait, a long-time Woodstock city councilor and daughter of the out-going MacKenzie. Earlier this year, the Hill Times reported that MacKenzie criticized Poilievre’s interference in the nomination race.

Gunnarson said that recent Conservative leaders have lost their grip on the party when grassroots supporters saw them override the democratic process and railroad pro-life and pro-family candidates. “There’s still time for the pall now spreading swiftly over Poilievre’s leadership, so early in his reign, to be pulled back, and confidence to be restored,” Gunnarson told supporters, urging them to contact all 20 members of National Council to “ask them to overturn Van Dorland’s disqualification so that his name appears on the ballot.” Gunnarson also urged CLC supporters of the Conservative to contact Tory MPs and Poilievre’s office to express their disappointment with the party’s action.

On March 18, the full National Council voted to uphold Van Dorland’s disqualification. Van Dorland released a statement saying that with his history working for MPs, in leadership races, and for the party in general elections, “I truly expected that my candidacy would have been treated with better faith.”

Van Dorland urged supporters – more than 2500 people signed up during his campaign and he was expected to win the nomination easily – to remain involved in the party and “continue to stand with me as we press on in our defense of Life and Truth.”