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HomeBusinessExclusive: Controversy erupts over Conservative Party of B.C. nomination

Exclusive: Controversy erupts over Conservative Party of B.C. nomination


Bob Mackin 

Conservative Party of B.C. vice-president Harman Bhangu became the Langley-Abbotsford candidate the day after a riding association board member launched a court bid aimed at stopping the June 8 virtual meeting.

A majority of 412 members chose Bhangu (220) on the first ballot in the day-long, online election over runner-up Shelly Jan Semmler (150) and third-place finisher Ryan Warawa (42). The official results were not announced on the party website.

Harman Bhangu (left) and John Rustad (right) in Surrey in 2023. (X/Bhangu)

Kari Simpson, the vice-president of the riding association and chair of its nomination committee, filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster on June 7, asking a judge to cancel the meeting. Her petition also seeks a court order for the party to cease any further candidate selection by its election readiness committee (ERC), leader John Rustad or the party board of directors, wherever a riding association exists, until rules and procedures for nominations are determined. 

Simpson, a social conservative who campaigns against sexual orientation and gender identity instruction in schools, also applied for a judge to order the party president, Aisha Estey, to hold an annual general meeting no later than Sept. 3 and produce the current membership list, including contact information, to Simpson or regional director Daniel Semmler, so they could organize the special general meeting. 

Semmler is the husband of the Langley-Abbotsford nomination runner-up. 

Simpson’s affidavit said riding president Krista Budlong notified the ERC about holding a June 1 nominating meeting at the Murrayville Hall. Simpson claimed Estey called Budlong May 9, “with the threat to remove individual board members or the entire board, if we conducted our candidate nomination meeting as announced.”

In a May 14 letter to Estey, copied to Rustad and the board, Simpson accused Estey of breaching the party’s code of conduct and constitution. 

Kari Simpson between “Hockey Andy” and Dr. Stephen Malthouse in 2022 at the B.C. Legislature (Facebook)

“I believe that your ongoing bully-tactics and threats, made to numerous [riding associations], may finally start to convince those board members, who once deferred to you for reasons unknown to most, to re-evaluate their support,” Simpson wrote.

Simpson alleged in the main court filing that last September’s party board decision to create the ERC subverted the party and riding association constitutions and violated their rules. The result is exclusion of riding associations from influencing candidate nominations, “save for riding members voting if there are more than two candidates.”

“There has been no explanation or consultation, when asked, about the origins or who requisitioned this process,” said Simpson’s filing. 

Simpson’s petition said the “same interference has occurred in numerous other ridings,” but did not name the other ridings.

Neither Estey nor Simpson immediately responded for comment. Warawa declined comment.

A source with knowledge of the nomination meeting, but who declined to be named, said numerous voters in the June 8 online nomination meeting shared the same email and/or residential addresses. 

Trucker Bhangu finished third in the September 2022 Surrey South by-election, behind the NDP’s Pauline Greaves and winner Elenore Sturko. On June 3, Sturko defected from BC United to the Conservatives to run in Surrey-Cloverdale because Brent Chapman, the husband of Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, was chosen a month earlier for Surrey South. 

In the 2020 provincial election, Warawa, son of late Conservative MP Mark Warawa, finished fourth in the Langley East riding. The NDP’s Megan Dykeman won with almost 10,000 more votes. She is seeking the seat in the new Langley-Walnut Grove riding. Trudeau Liberal MP John Aldag (Cloverdale-Langley City) quit the House of Commons in late May to run for the NDP in Langley-Abbotsford. 

The Oct. 19 B.C. election will be contested in 93 ridings, six more than 2020, due to statutory redistribution. Seventy-two of the ridings feature new boundaries. 

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