Harper's authority challenge by Nova Scotians over Bill Casey
N.S. riding association defies PM, supports Casey
Updated Sun. Oct. 14 2007 7:23 PM ET
The Canadian Press
HALIFAX -- A Conservative riding association in northern Nova Scotia is defying Stephen Harper and standing behind renegade MP Bill Casey, leaving the prime minister with the choice to either reverse course or brush aside the wishes of local Tories.
Harper has said Casey, who was booted from the Conservative caucus in June for voting against the federal budget because of changes to the equalization formula, would not be allowed to run for the party in the next federal election.
But the Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley riding association's board voted Sunday to reinforce Casey's nomination, putting the longtime MP's future as a Conservative candidate back in Harper's hands.
"There is a democratic process in place, they nominated me once, they reinforced that tonight," Casey said in an interview following riding association's two-hour meeting in Truro, N.S.
"If (Harper) believes in the democratic process, then that decision will hold."
Casey and riding association president Scott Armstrong acknowledged that Harper has the final say on candidate nominations, but they remained hopeful the prime minister would change his mind.
"We're hoping that cooler heads will prevail and Bill will be able to stand," said Armstrong. "We feel the best chance for us to win a seat and deliver it to Ottawa is with Bill Casey."
Officials with the PMO couldn't be reached for comment, but Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who told Parliament earlier this year that no Conservative who voted his conscience would be punished, said the prime minister has made his position clear.
"I think the prime minister has made it very clear that we'll be running a Conservative candidate in Cumberland-Colchester," MacKay said at an unrelated announcement in Halifax.
If he isn't allowed to carry the Conservative banner in the next federal campaign, Casey said he'll run as an Independent and take on Harper's candidate.
"If that's the way it works out, I'm ready," said Casey.
Casey's decision to oppose the budget centred on changes to the federal equalization formula, which he argued gutted a 2005 deal that protected natural resource revenues from clawbacks.
The budget forced Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, to choose between their offshore deals or an enriched equalization formula that included a fiscal cap -- a choice that had the potential to cost Nova Scotia up to $1 billion.
In the months since the budget, both provinces have complained the federal government had broken the agreement. Saskatchewan has also criticized the new equalization formula, filing a lawsuit earlier this month.
But last week, Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald and Harper together announced an agreement to end the row between their governments, with Ottawa guaranteeing that Nova Scotia won't lose any royalties under the revised equalization formula.
And now MacDonald, who earlier this year had called on all MPs from the province to vote against the budget, is refusing to voice support for Casey.
Instead, he has said he'll support the Conservatives in the next federal election, as he has always done.
Casey expressed doubt about last week's agreement.
He said he still hasn't seen any evidence there is an actual, signed deal, which makes it impossible for anyone to know whether it's good for the province.
"I've asked four times for any kind of a memorandum of understanding or an agreement, and there is no agreement," he said. "So I haven't got a clue what's in there."
The agreement with Nova Scotia did nothing to allay anger in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan.