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PC district association president accuses Wakeham of cherry-picking byelection candidate

A scathing letter from the head of the Progressive Conservatives district association in Conception Bay East-Bell Island has accused Leader Tony Wakeham of choosing a supporter of his as the candidate for an upcoming byelection without a fair and open nomination process.

Association members treated like 'insignificant fodder' by leader, says Darryl Harding

A man wearing a blue suit standing on a stage.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tony Wakeham has been accused of hand-picking the party's candidate for an upcoming byelection in Conception Bay East-Bell Island. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

A scathing letter from the head of the Progressive Conservatives' district association in Conception Bay East-Bell Island has accused Leader Tony Wakeham of choosing a supporter of his as the candidate for an upcoming byelection without a fair and open nomination process.

In an internal letter sent to the party executive on Thursday and obtained by CBC News, Darryl Harding says Tina Neary was chosen as the candidate without proper support from the association — and that they were ignored like "insignificant fodder."

"The hundreds of volunteers in this district work like dogs to get the vote out, and deserve to be informed and to be involved in any decision that are made for our district," Harding, who has since resigned from the association, wrote in the letter.

"When a leader totally ignores an entire district association to place a person as a candidate in an upcoming decision of the people, without as much as a phone call to inform and update the [district association], that, sir, was the proverbial straw that broke this camel's back."

Harding and Neary serve together on the town council in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's. He was suspended in March after allegations of sexual harassment and breaching the town's code of conduct.

Harding accused Wakeham of hand-picking Neary as a candidate, saying her name was often brought up during his leadership campaign and that he told supporters that she was going to make a great MHA — saying much of the talk was done before David Brazil, the outgoing MHA for Conception Bay East-Bell Island, had decided to retire at the end of the year.

Harding pulled no punches in telling Wakeham the move was against protocol.

"[Without] us foot soldiers, Mr. Leader, you are nothing. This party is nothing. And yet from [your] ivory tower, you are totally oblivious to the fact that … one of your campaign workers was to be your choice for the candidacy. This is totally a clear violation of procedures, policies, and articles in our constitution," he wrote.

"What incompetent people did you surround yourself with as your advisors, Mr. Wakeham?  Did any of them even suggest that you tone your support down for this candidate?"

A smiling woman with blonde hair wearing a blue plaid blazer stands inside Confederation Building.
Tina Neary, a town councillor in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, has been announced as the Progressive Conservative candidate. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

In a statement to CBC News, PC Party president Shane Skinner said the nomination process, between Nov. 21 and 24, was open and fair, and Wakeham had no direct involvement in the process other than setting the date.

"He believes that no person should have a clear path to a nomination to run for our party without a fair, open and democratic nomination process. The nomination process in this district was independently conducted by the party, with no interference from the leader, reaffirming our commitment to our constitutional principles."

Neary told CBC News she wasn't part of the nomination process and is focused on her campaign. A date for the byelection won't be set until some time after Brazil leaves his seat, which he said he will do Dec. 29.

Harding concluded the letter by guessing the party will lose the seat, which it has held for the last 20 years.

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With files from Peter Cowan

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