Keith Vickers, a longtime Liberal supporter who some considered a shoo-in to be the federal candidate in his home of Miramichi, N.B., says he’s mulling over an independent run after a split with his party.
Vickers is the cousin of former sergeant-at-arms and current ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers, who was hailed a hero following the attacks on Parliament Hill last fall.
Keith Vickers has been connected to the Liberal Party for years, and spent some 14 years working in the office of Charles Hubbard, a Liberal MP who represented Miramichi from 1993 to 2008.
Vickers told Yahoo Canada News that he had over 40 per cent of the votes locked in for the Liberal nomination in the riding of Miramichi-Grand Lake for the upcoming federal election. But a controversy over photocopied membership sign-up forms that banned 372 members from voting ended in a loss for the New Brunswick native, and a win for rival Pat Finnigan.
Vickers had won the nomination four years ago and ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Tory MP Tilly O’Neill Gordon. With his connections to the community, as former president of the Irish-Canadian Cultural Association of New Brunswick, and having spent years working in the private sector in the business field, Vickers thought the nomination was in the bag.
And he thought the media attention brought on by the Oct. 22 attacks on Parliament Hill, and his cousin’s hero status afterwards, would have helped seal the deal.
“If I went through that whole process and I lost, I’d say that’s it,” he said. “But I was robbed, and so were…the federal Liberal people of Miramichi. They couldn’t vote for me. They couldn’t vote for who they wanted as their second candidate.”
The runner-up in the nomination battle that was done by preferential ballot, John McKay, appealed the vote, claiming the party’s strict decision over the sign-up papers disenfranchised Liberal supporters.
“To be arbitrarily rejected is a profound, profound disappointment to many old-time Liberals,” McKay told CBC news last December.
Vickers said he wasn’t sent the proper forms in time by New Brunswick provincial co-chair Cyndi Jenkins, so instead used photocopies of sign-up forms, which he knew had been done in the past.
“[But] two weeks before the Nov. 29th nomination convention, you’re not allowed to sign anybody up. They told me four days after that, so I couldn’t fix anything. I signed up 600 people before, and they didn’t tell me…they decided that those photocopies didn’t count.”
A similar paperwork blunder in another New Brunswick riding, Tobique-Mactaquac, saw T.J. Harvey win the federal nomination. Harvey had also used copies of forms for members paying by cash, without individual numbers on the forms, and although the outcome was appealed by a rival Harvey remained the candidate. McKay’s appeal was later rejected by the party.
The different outcomes for the two different ridings was frustrating, to say the least, for those involved.
“There were many, many Liberals who applied using photocopied forms and were enrolled as members [in Tobique-Mactaquac] — the very excuse they’re using to not enrol these 372 in the Miramichi,“ McKay said.
Vickers said he reached out to Dominic LeBlanc, the Liberal House leader and a friend, for answers but only got doors slammed in his face. He added that someone from the party — who he doesn’t know — leaked to the media weeks after the November nomination meeting that he was missing over $200 from his membership forms, which he said was completely false, to try and discredit him.
He’s been scratching his head for months, unclear as to why things turned out the way they did. Vickers said he, his family and his supporters back home have been living without any closure since the controversy unfolded.
He’s back in Ottawa where he and his immediate family reside. He’s retired, but also driving a school bus on weekdays to stay busy and helping his wife, who was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, at home.
And although he wants to put the episode behind him, he said he’s been asked to run as an independent and is considering the option. He said he’d even consider offers from other political parties if they came along in the future.
When reached for comment by phone and asked to explain what went on with the photocopied sign-up forms, Jenkins told Yahoo Canada News that the decision of McKay’s appeal has been made public.
Miramichi is currently held by the Tories but is historically a Liberal riding, Vickers said, only turning blue three times in the last century. He said Liberal candidate Finnigan is a nice man, but not the right candidate.
“They’re not getting any traction, nor will they,” he said. “[People back home are] starting to believe the inadequacies and the negative comments, because people will go negative about what they hear about Justin Trudeau.”
With the federal scene looking like it is for the Liberals these days there’s no chance Miramichi-Grand Lake will change political hands in the fall, Vickers said.
But he may end up being someone to help make that happen.