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Conservative party members planning appeal
of Sandy Lee candidacy, sources say

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, March 30, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Disgruntled members of the territorial Conservative association plan to appeal the appointment of Sandy Lee as the Western Arctic candidate in the May 2 federal election, according to sources within the party.

There is also talk of seeking a non-confidence vote against the association's executive for going against the wishes of its members.

Sources within the association, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Yellowknifer Monday that some members are aiming to remove association president Doug Witty and chief executive officer Bill Aho.

"It's been an absolute disaster from top to bottom," one source said, adding a number of party members in the territory are looking into the appeal process to the national party executive over Lee's appointment.

"The board (is) up in arms. The executive is working against its own members. Members are running for the exits."

According to a letter obtained by Yellowknifer, one addressed to the national political director of the Conservative Party of Canada from Al Goodzeck, vice-president of the Western Arctic Conservative Association, members passed a resolution 13 to 1 during an emergency meeting on March 25 asking for a nomination vote, which would pit Lee against former Hay River mayor and MLA John Pollard.

The executive had previously ruled that Pollard's nomination was invalid because he had missed the March 23 deadline.

In a move that remains unexplained, the national party deemed the deadline invalid, and thus a motion by the Western Arctic Conservative board of directors was made to allow the nomination period to remain open.

But in an e-mail to Conservative members on Sunday evening, Witty said the national party had anointed Lee.

Lee, who resigned her position as health minister and MLA for Range Lake on Saturday, is running for the Conservatives after years of support for the Liberal Party in the territory.

In the 2006 election race, Lee worked as then-Liberal candidate Ethel Blondin-Andrew's campaign manager and was rumoured to be a possible Liberal candidate for the 2008 federal election. Lee also shows up on Blondin-Andrew's contributors list from 2000, having donated $500 in support of the long-time Liberal MP.

Lee said Monday her decision to run as a Conservative is due to the Liberal Party's lack of interest and vision in the North.

"I've seen more and more over the last three years ... that we really need a strong partner with the federal government to move our priorities forward," she said. "I'm a new generation of the Conservative Party members. I'm one of the many disillusioned members of the Liberal Party. It does not have the kind of vision and focus that Prime Minister Harper has shown to the North."

In e-mails obtained by Yellowknifer, Ray Decorby, owner of Polar Developments and a board member of the association, voiced his displeasure with the selection process. Witty responded by writing, "If you don't like the results, you don't get to personally run a campaign to undermine the association. Your actions in this matter are not going to help us win an election."

In a document attached to the e-mail exchange, titled Rationale For Board Meeting and Feedback to National, Lona Hegeman, another member of the association, wrote, "many (the majority) of members on the board are increasingly convinced their concerns and the concerns they convey from the NWT voting public were not being relayed accurately to National," which she said is creating much of the party members' anger toward Lee's selection. Hegeman added she thinks it would be best to remove Witty and Aho after the election.

When asked about the divide among Conservatives in the North over her candidacy, Lee said she has spoken to Conservatives in Yellowknife and she feels she has the support.

"They see my track record, and I represent lots of people and speak to small community people, and I'm well known, and I've been a member (of the legislative assembly) for 12 years," she said. "They know I would be a very credible and viable candidate."

Lee will be campaigning against incumbent Dennis Bevington with the NDP, Liberal Joe Handley and Green Party candidate Eli Purchase.

Witty, Hegeman, Decorby and Pollard all declined to comment on the e-mails or any questions regarding the controversy within the party.

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