It only took about six months, but finally something sort of interesting is happening in the Conservative party leadership race.
Reality television mogul and famous angry man Kevin O'Leary took to Twitter on Thursday night to warn the public that "backroom organizers may be vote-rigging in this election." He then spent St. Patrick's Day furiously tweeting at his other 13 competitors about it, and somehow managed to wring an absolute ice burn out of Saskatoon-based leadership hopeful Brad Trost. O'Leary never mentioned suspected front-runner Maxime Bernier by name in his vote-rigging accusation, but Bernier took it personally anyway and sent out an email blast arguing that Kevin O'Leary is a loser and a bad candidate.
(Andrew Scheer and Chris Alexander had also raised concerns about backroom shenanigans with the party brass, but preferred not to air the CPC's dirty laundry in public because I guess they care more about partisan loyalty than TRANSPARENCY and the TRUTH. Sad!)
Then, the first turn of the screw: An internal investigation by the CPC actually turned up evidence of sketchy memberships. The rules stipulate that every party membership has to be purchased and paid for individually, but 1,351 had been paid for with anonymous prepaid credit cards through two IP addresses and had to be purged from the rosters. So far, the party hasn't found any evidence these were connected to a particular campaign, precisely because they were all purchased anonymously in predominantly Sikh- and Tamil-Canadian communities in the Greater Toronto Area.
But then—another twist of the screw. Bernier's campaign sent the Globe and Mail an affidavit on Sunday signed by six people alleging that Ron Chatha, president of the Conservative Brampton East Riding Association and a member of O'Leary's campaign, had approached them to participate in a mass membership-buying prepaid credit card scheme. Chatha is also the person who first reported the anomalous memberships to the party's attention in the first place, and claims that he's now being unfairly targeted by rivals.
Go figure that the first major battle of the campaign has more to do with backroom backstabbing over technicalities than anything substantial or relevant to Canadian voters.
It may be impossible to ever definitively tie the membership irregularities to one of the campaigns, precisely because of the anonymous credit cards involved. Even if the allegations against Ron Chatha turn out to be true, there is no way to establish that was working at the behest of O'Leary's campaign or was just so absolutely jazzed at the prospect of selling Senate seats or whatever that he had to game the system on his own.
If it is true that O'Leary is up to his entrails in shenanigans, though, it would be both a hilarious self-own and also totally consistent with all his other self-owns so far this campaign. Say whatever you will about his political fitness to be prime minister, O'Leary is sort of a dumbass at campaigning. He skips debates where he might potentially have to speak French, has an abysmal sense of timing, and can't even properly fib about missing a flight.
Not that Bernier is any less sloppy—there was that whole biker thing. But hey, a lot can change in nine years, right?
The real meat of this membership thing (the stakes seem too low to constitute a proper scandal) is Lisa Raitt's call that anyone caught cheating or otherwise fudging on the technical stuff should be disqualified from the race. It'd be a fantastic way to thin the race a little bit—there is no reason to still have 14 candidates in this race—even if it meant (likely) ejecting the only two interesting and sort of likable candidates from the campaign. (Sorry, Michael Chong.)
Of course, without Bernier or O'Leary, then we're stuck with… the rest. I'm not sure even the Conservative party deserves that fate.
Follow Drew Brown on Twitter.