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Where were the UCP's top operatives if they weren't vetting candidates?

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United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Apparently someone in the United Conservative Party could run a sophisticated vote-diversion scheme but the party didn't have the technical wherewithal to operate a simple candidate vetting process capable of eliminating candidates with a high potential for causing embarrassment.

And not at the same time either, so it's not as if there was a conflict of skilled hands to do essential work among the party's crack technical operatives.

This would seem to be the most obvious conclusion from a pair of startling CBC Calgary stories about the UCP published in the past few hours.

Leastways, it's pretty obvious the party wasn't assigning its top operatives to the vetting file.

According to the newer of the stories published yesterday, there's verifiable documentary evidence plus witness statements indicating that UCP political operatives unknown used at least a small number of email addresses "fraudulently attached to United Conservative Party memberships" to vote in the party's 2017 leadership race, which was won by Jason Kenney.

The addresses were used to "harvest" personal identification numbers that were then used to vote for one candidate or another.

The CBC Calgary investigative team didn't check all of the 100,000 members they surveyed on a leaked membership list, only 49 that had obviously screwy-sounding email addresses. Then they talked to some of the real people who supposedly voted in the leadership election and were told they never actually voted and didn't recognize the email addresses.

Just to make things a little weirder, one of the iffy domains -- Mail.deanfrench.ca -- has been linked to the chief of staff of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Kenney's bromantic partner in politics.

The CBC story noted that the practice sounded a heck of a lot like claims made by former UCP MLA Prab Gill in February that the same procedure was used by Kenney's campaign team to cast votes for their candidate. A lawyer for the UCP threatened to sue Gill if he wouldn't stop saying that.

Meanwhile, the RCMP is investigating the voting procedure as well, the CBC said.

Remember, all this supposedly happened at the same time the shenanigan-rich "kamikaze mission" to sink Kenney's principal rival, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, was going on. And the voting process certainly didn't please Jean's campaign manager.

The party strenuously denies there was any fraud. For Kenney's part, he told the CBC, "all I can tell you is that I believe 60,000 people voted in the leadership," and that more than 60 per cent of them voted for him.

Moving along to yesterday's other CBC story, Calgary reporter Scott Dippel reported that at the start of the current election campaign the UCP asked its candidates to fill out a form that asked all the right questions but then, by the sound of it, didn't bother to read their answers.

Either that, or they didn't bother for some other reason to spike some of the applications from candidates whom it should have been obvious would cause them problems.

"Either the disclosure wasn't complete in the first place or the review of the disclosure was not thorough," Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams told the CBC.

"Or possibly the disclosure, when it was done, didn't flag anything because it didn't look out of line to the people who were doing the reviewing, or the reviewing wasn't done at all because the candidates were assumed to be star candidates," she added.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

I can tell you that it's not that hard for political parties to discourage candidates they're not comfortable with without actually doing anything at all. You just don't ever get around to approving their application until -- oh!  sorry! -- it's too late.

But even a procedure that simple was apparently too much for the UCP to organize.

For Kenney's part, he said, "I think we did a pretty good job but I will always say it wasn't going to be perfect and all I can tell you is, I'm proud of the slate of candidates that we have."

Premier Rachel Notley put some hard spin on the first story later yesterday, telling a prominent columnist in Calgary that if Kenney became premier and was then investigated by the RCMP, he'd have to resign.

Kenney reacted to that one with fury, accusing the premier of running "a campaign of character assassination." Unlike Gill, though, the UCP hasn't yet threatened to sue Notley.

I can tell you this, Kenney's reaction was not the approach that would have been taken by any of Alberta's seven Progressive Conservative premiers, every one of whom would have laughed it off as if it were risible nonsense.

Well, maybe Kenney's just got a hotter temper than those other premiers.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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