Strahl: 'We're a strong, united, Big Blue team'
Conservative candidate Mark Strahl doesn't believe the internal party strife caused by the drastically reduced nomination period here in the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon riding will dog him into the election campaign.
There is no split in the party, he said Tuesday, after his Monday night nomination victory, and any anger in the membership is focused at the national level, which imposed the shortened nomination period here and in two other B.C. ridings where Conservative MPs announced they would not seek re-election.
"I don't think it's going to be a problem for us locally," Strahl said. "We're a strong, united, Big Blue team."
"I know the members in the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon are behind me, and now we have a job to do," he said.
Strahl won the nomination over rival Ernie Charlton by a vote of 144 to 77.
In his nomination speech before the vote, Strahl said there was some "urgency" to select a candidate who can carry the party's banner in an election campaign that could start "in a matter of days."
"I believe I am that candidate, and I hope to earn your trust here tonight," he said.
In contrast, Charlton highlighted his "real life experience" in the private sector, which he believed would resonate with voters in the election campaign as the party's candidate would surely be "grilled on what qualifies him to deserve their vote."
"Yes, filling Chuck Strahl's shoes will be difficult, but we can't forget these were once the cork boots of a logger," Charlton said. "It's these experiences that Chuck Strahl brought to the table when first elected."
Former Dewdney-Alouette MP Grant McNally introduced Strahl to the packed meeting room at the Coast Hotel, saying the 32-year-old son of retiring MP Chuck Strahl had worked for him for six years in his constituency office.
But he said the candidate had "proved to me he was much more" than just Strahl's son.
"Mark is his own man with strong and deep roots," he said.
Strahl promised in his speech, if elected, that he would "get tough on crime" and "put victims' rights first, every time."
He also promised to work to get rid of the long gun registry, keep taxes low and continue democratic reforms.
"If elected, I will take these ideals to Ottawa," he said.
But some party members openly questioned the nine-day nomination period, imposed on the riding by national party officials.
The usual nomination period is six to eight weeks.
"It's a mockery of democracy," party member Alexander Moens said. "Our democracy is more important that the (PMO's) agenda."
He said the nomination period was not long enough for a "democratic process for people who want to represent the riding to come forward. It weakens our democracy."
He said it also casts a shadow on MP Strahl's legacy "because Chuck Strahl has been a member of Parliament with no spots … but this looks like an insider job."
Party member Brian Coulter said "we are the general membership" and could over-rule the decision of the meeting's moderator not to have a question and answer period for the candidates before the vote.
"We have a right to ask questions," Coulter said. "We are the members, we are the people."
After the meeting, he said with only two candidates for members to choose from, the vote was more like "a coronation" than a nomination convention.
"There should have been more opportunity for other (candidates) to come forward," he said.
Don Stahl, acting president of the Conservative riding association here, said "with a federal election looming" the local party had little choice but go along with the shortened nomination period.
"That's just the cards we were dealt, and we went with it," he said.
And with the strong Conservative hold on this riding, Stahl added, most party members realized they were electing not just a candidate, but the next MP.
"Mark will be the next MP," he predicted.
NDP candidate Gwen O'Mahony and Green Party candidate Jamie Hoskins have announced their election readiness. Only the federal Liberals have not announced a candidate in Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon.