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PCs say Ford cleared of membership-buying allegations in 2016

PCs say Ford cleared of membership-buying allegations in 2016
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The Progressive Conservatives’ former campaign chair says he “carefully reviewed” the 2016 allegations that Doug Ford purchased party memberships to help his preferred candidate win the PC nomination in Etobicoke Centre and was “completely satisfied” Ford did nothing wrong.

Walied Soliman was the party’s campaign chair under former leader Patrick Brown during a bitter nomination dispute on Ford family turf between the riding’s former candidate, Pina Martino, and Kinga Surma, who ultimately won the nomination. At the time Martino accused Ford and Surma of duping people into party memberships in order to rig the vote.

On Thursday, the Liberal party released an audio recording of Ford recruiting members with Surma at an Etobicoke Tim Hortons. In it, he appears to be telling patrons that party memberships are free.

Voting in nomination contests is only open to party members, who pay a $10 membership fee.

The Liberals also released an affidavit Martino sent to PC party officials in which she lists dozens of people she says she met while canvassing the riding who claimed they had not paid for their membership or, in some cases, had no idea they were members at all. Martino also accused Ford of trying to intimidate her by following her in his car. Ford has denied all of the allegations.

At the time of the nomination, Soliman was a member of the party’s Provincial Nominations Committee, which dealt with Martino’s complaint.

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“I was then and remain now completely satisfied with the process that elected Kinga Surma as our candidate,” he wrote on Friday in response to emailed questions. “I was also aware of the support Doug Ford provided and was satisfied that it was completely appropriate.”

Soliman said the audio recording released by the Liberals did not change his opinion.

A party source has told the Star that Martino’s complaint was never actually investigated by the party because officials feared getting on the wrong side of Ford, who, despite not holding any senior role in the party at the time, held considerable influence in Etobicoke. Soliman called that allegation “totally and categorically ridiculous.”

The Star spoke to five people listed in Martino’s affidavit who said they had voted for Surma in the nomination contest but did not pay for a party membership. “I said I’d vote for her, but I didn’t want to pay,” said a woman who lives near Islington and Eglinton Aves. “I didn’t want to be a member. I’m not political.”

All of the people with whom the Star spoke said Ford had encouraged them to vote for Surma.

Conacher, who is also an adjunct professor of law and politics at the University of Ottawa, said the latest controversy is another example why the parties should not run their own nomination contests, which he says should instead be run by an independent elections agency.
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