New Brunswick's Progressive Conservative party is facing more internal division over its socially conservative message ahead of next year's provincial election.
Internal emails obtained by CBC News include criticism of Premier Blaine Higgs, the party and its newly hired campaign manager over the direction they're taking.
Hampton Deputy Mayor Jeremy Salgado pulled out of the race for the Hampton-Fundy-St. Martin's nomination Tuesday and quit the PC party, saying he feels "a disconnect between my principles and the actions being taken within our party."
He was up against Faytene Grasseschi, a high-profile Christian conservative activist who has embraced Higgs's handling of the province's gender identity policy in schools.
Jeremy Salgado, deputy mayor of Hampton, has pulled out the race for the Hampton-Fundy-St. Martin's nomination, citing disconnect with the party. (Town of Hampton)
In an email to party officials, Salgado says the party gave Grasseschi "a considerable advantage." He told CBC News the party gave her information, including the Dec. 19 date of the nominating convention, before giving it to him.
"Our party has taken a different direction than I would have hoped for," he wrote in the Tuesday email.
"It is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge the misalignment of my beliefs and values with the current structure of our party.… I sincerely hope that one day, circumstances will change for the better, allowing me to return to this party under more positive conditions."
The party's executive director Doug Williams responded that the process was fair to everyone and the Dec. 19 date was requested by the local riding executive.
"There are no barriers blocking anyone from participating in this process," he said, adding the party is "a big-tent party that brings together a broad voter coalition. We will continue to be that under Premier Higgs."
A letter of concern
Another PC party member, Shediac resident Chuck Steeves, also recently wrote to Higgs and campaign manager Steve Outhouse to complain about recent fundraising appeals.
"N.B. PCs do not want a Social Conservative Party — we are Progressive Conservatives," Steeves wrote in a Nov. 23 email.
"This letter appeal and a similar campaign will stop as many donations as it will attract. This will lose as many votes or more than it will retain and certainly not gain any from other parties."
Doug Williams, executive director of the province's Progressive Conservative Party, dismissed allegations by Salgado that the nomination process had favoured Faytene Grasseschi. (Shane Fowler/CBC)
In a fundraising email earlier this month, Higgs said he was the victim of "disgusting" attacks over his stance on Policy 713, which deals with students' choice of names and pronouns to reflect their gender identities.
The Hampton-Fundy-St. Martin's nominating convention — the party's first for next year's election — had been shaping up as a proxy battle over that issue and Higgs's leadership.
Salgado confirmed he was one of the more than 20 PC riding association presidents who signed letters earlier this year calling for a review of Higgs's leadership.
Last week he said in a social media post that he did it to give party members "a chance to express their views" but that his "personal view" was that Higgs was "the best candidate to lead our great province."
Williams said the endorsement was at odds with Salgado's criticism of the party this week.
"I won't speculate on what changed in the last six days," he said.
Grasseschi's support of Higgs
Grasseschi was pitching herself to Tories as someone who supported Higgs in the spring when he "stuck his neck out for parents" and when some MLAs and members "turned on him for it."
Grasseschi, a high-profile Christian conservative activist, has embraced Higgs's handling of the province's gender identity policy in schools. (Submitted by Faytene Grasseschi)
"Premier Higgs deserves a team around him that will stand alongside him on important issues like parental rights and other common sense conservative values," she wrote in a Nov. 16 email to party members in the riding.
Grasseschi said in a statement to CBC that neither candidate got preferential treatment from the party but that Salgado was the one with the "clear advantage" because he was part of the riding executive that scheduled the nomination.
"Everything has been initiated by Mr. Salgado and his team," she said.
Salgado was endorsed for the nomination by current Hampton PC MLA Gary Crossman, who is not running again.
Salgado said in his Thursday email that until he feels comfortable returning to the PC party, he'll "continue to champion the values and ideals that I hold dear" and work for causes "that align more closely with my beliefs."
He wouldn't say when asked by CBC whether he might run for another party or as an independent candidate.
"At this time that is undetermined," he said.
In his email, Steeves warned Higgs, Outhouse and the premier's chief of staff Paul d'Astous that the party's direction was "reinforcing the fear" that some members had when two former People's Alliance MLAs, including cabinet minister Kris Austin, joined the PCs.
He also wrote that Opposition Liberal Leader Susan Holt was "hitting her stride" and was "entirely correct" in her criticism of government policy on homelessness.
The province, however, "cannot afford" a Liberal government, Steeves added, so the Tories need to "stop this near train wreck already tipsy on the rails."