Fight to control Leela Aheer's riding association heats up amid leadership race

·3 min read
The UCP constituency association for MLA Leela Aheer's riding is embroiled in a dispute over control of the group.  (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The UCP constituency association for MLA Leela Aheer's riding is embroiled in a dispute over control of the group. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The feud over a riding represented by a United Conservative Party leadership contestant is escalating again as the party, arbitration committee, constituency association (CA) and riding members argue over the future of who controls the riding.

After months of fighting that flipped stewardship of the board back and forth between two groups, now the current board is refusing to convene a required meeting to have members elect leadership positions within the association.

The Chestermere-Strathmore riding is represented by MLA Leela Aheer, who is vying for the leadership of the UCP.

Emails obtained by CBC News show the different players sparring over failure to comply with a directive from the UCP arbitration committee to have the meeting by the end of July — leaving the party pursuing further action.

An email sent Wednesday to the group from lawyer Steven Dollansky, on behalf of the UCP, lays out the stakes going forward.

"If they fail to do so, the only avenue available to [the party] would be to revoke recognition of the CA [constituency association]," it reads referring to the current board.

After days of back-and-forths, a followup email was sent to the arbitration committee chair by Dollansky explaining the party wants the panel to compel a meeting to be held on Aug. 27 under the direction of the party and block the current association from using any riding funds.

The current board wanted to push the meeting to the middle of November, according to the email. UCP members will pick their next leader on Oct. 6.

The ruling, handed down from the arbitration committee in March, had ordered the results of a January meeting that replaced the board — ousting 17 of 22 members — void because insufficient notice was provided to members and ruled that a new meeting must be held before August.

But the man who was the new constituency president for two months while waiting for a verdict says the reinstated board isn't respecting that order.

"The old board is trying to cling to power," Nick Boots said.

"I think we have an MLA that has family members on the board … [who] are trying their hardest to make sure that that board stays loyal to the current family."

CBC News has also reached out to the current constituency association for comment. Thomas Kent, the chair of the committee, said as the adjudicator he could not comment.

Chestermere-Strathmore (a riding just east of Calgary) has been embroiled in this dispute between the current board that mostly supports Aheer, and those that mainly back a challenger to her nomination for re-election, since the end of 2021.

The election, reversal and reinstatement of that constituency association included allegations of voter list irregularities, refusal to cede control of the association's finances, and a months-long dispute resolution process. The panel did not rule on those allegations and absolved Boots's board of any responsibility, calling them "innocent victims."

Sides argue about next steps, potential consequences

Kent wrote in the email chain that he received correspondence from UCP members concerned about the failure to enforce the ruling and how that may render the process "meaningless and undermines the foundation of the party."

The parties involved did not respond to questions about the outcome of the meetings held this week or their intended next steps.

In a statement, the UCP said it expects the board to facilitate the meeting, per the committee's ruling, so the membership can have its say.

"I would like to see the board disbanded," Boots said.

"I think they should be given the opportunity to run again. However, should there be any penalties for not co-operating with party's ruling? Maybe."

Aheer is currently running for leadership of the UCP and premier of Alberta in the race to replace Jason Kenney. On Friday, the party confirmed her signatures and fee required to officially be a candidate have been accepted.

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