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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The campaign co-chairs of four Progressive Conservative leadership candidates have raised concerns that a rental agreement between the Dennis King campaign and a member of the party’s leadership committee could be a conflict of interest.
Kerri Carpenter, president of KC Immigration Services Inc., is currently renting office space to the Dennis King campaign. Carpenter currently sits on a dispute resolution committee within the PC Party, a committee tasked with providing independent decisions about concerns raised between candidates. She is also a member of the party’s leadership convention committee.
King told The Guardian he does not see this as a conflict of interest.
“She had a vacant space. We needed space. We're the only campaign that had a functioning office because I think we're doing things differently than others. I take it others are taking exception to it," King said.
Campaign managers of leadership candidates Allan Dale, Sarah Stewart-Clark, Kevin Arsenault and Shawn Driscoll raised concerns about Carpenter’s role in a letter sent to Andrew Walker, chairman of the P.E.I. PC leadership campaign, on Dec. 19, 2018.
“Financially benefiting from a campaign while sitting on the leadership committee is, at a minimum, a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. This business transaction clearly indicates a level of communication and familiarly that we see as supporting one candidate,” the letter read.
PEI PC candidate letter by on Scribd
Carpenter, in an e-mail sent to The Guardian confirmed she has rented a unit in a building she owns to the King campaign, but said it was rented at “fair market value.” She said she was asked afterwards to sit on the dispute resolution committee as a volunteer, but said she recused herself from “matters dealing with the King campaign” as part of the committee. She said she has since resigned from the committee
“I have remained impartial throughout the leadership process and have not participated in any meetings or other activities related to the King campaign or any other campaign,” Carpenter wrote.
But Michael Drake, the official spokesperson for the PC leadership convention committee, denied Carpenter had resigned from the dispute resolution committee or that she had recused herself from any decisions of the committee.
"She remains on our dispute resolution committee," Drake said.
King acknowledged that other candidates have raised questions about his campaign but characterized the concerns as “gotcha-style politics.”
“I don't get distracted by it. But it's kind of exactly why I'm running,” King said.
“I don't support this particular style and I don't believe it does anything to strengthen our overall brand as a party.”
In recent speeches, King has spoken out against growing disillusionment about politics, about an overly partisan political culture and about a lack of solution-oriented political debate in P.E.I.
But the Dec. 19 letter suggested there was a perception that King’s campaign had benefitted from a PC “backroom” in support of him.
“The last thing the PC party needs at this time is another instance where there is a real or perceived conflict of interest with a party official based on an apparent preferential relationship with the King campaign,” the letter read.
On Nov. 21, Driscoll sent a letter to PC party president Charles Blue highlighting several issues that he claimed undermined the “fairness and impartiality of the leadership process.”
The letter took issue with the fact that Adam Ross, a former chief of staff with the PC caucus office, had taken a leave of absence to work with the King campaign. Driscoll suggested Ross had privileged access to membership lists and claimed he had also met with a company tasked with setting up the electronic voting process for the contest.
Dale’s campaign echoed those concerns in a letter sent to Blue on Nov. 22.
The dispute resolution committee, whose membership consisted of Carpenter, Drake and party vice-president Suzi DeBlois, came to a decision about these concerns sometime in December. Their decisions have not been released publicly but were communicated to candidates.
Ross has since fully resigned from his position with the PC caucus.
Drake told The Guardian there were no current complaints before the party’s dispute resolution committee related to either Ross or Carpenter.
Driscoll would not comment on the details of the decision reached by the dispute resolution committee, but suggested his concerns were not completely allayed.
"I was not satisfied with the outcome," Driscoll said.
In an interview, Dale said he was largely happy with the decisions reached by the dispute resolution committee.
"The campaigns worked together with the dispute resolution group to come up with a reasonable solution that met everybody's expectation," Dale said.
However, when told Carpenter still maintained a position on the dispute resolution committee, Dale expressed surprise. He said he had been told Carpenter had stepped away from the committee due to concerns that were raised.
"I didn't realize she was still part of the resolution committee. That was certainly my understanding," Dale said.
Stewart-Clark also initially told The Guardian she had confidence in the decisions of the dispute resolution committee. But she also expressed surprise that Carpenter had maintained her position on the committee.
"That is not the situation that has been described to me," she said.
Arsenault told The Guardian that his campaign had not taken a role in complaints focused on Ross or on Carpenter.