Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer. (The Canadian Press)

Conservative party’s fundraising boss takes over temporary helm of party

Jaime Girard is replacing Dustin Van Vugt

The director of fundraising for the federal Conservatives has taken over as acting executive director of the party as it continues to grapple with the fallout from the resignation of leader Andrew Scheer.

Jaime Girard is replacing Dustin Van Vugt, who left his job as executive director earlier this month over questions about party funds used for Scheer’s personal expenses.

Girard jumps into the new role at a crucial time for the party — figuring out how to run the race to select Scheer’s replacement.

Scheer announced on Dec. 12 that he will step down as leader as soon as a new one is chosen, a move that came after weeks of intense criticism of the way the party fared in the fall election, despite the fact it increased its overall seat count and share of the popular vote.

Campaigns to oust Scheer reached a fever pitch in the days leading up to his announcement, including word circulating that his children’s private school tuition was paid for with party money — details that surprised some members of the party’s main fundraising arm, the Conservative Fund.

Girard has spent more than a decade serving as director of fundraising for the Conservative party, a position that would have placed her into close contact with the Fund’s board.

The board includes former prime minister Stephen Harper, Conservative Sen. Linda Frum, and, as the current director, retired Conservative senator Irving Gerstein. Gerstein is expected to step back from his role running the board next year.

While the Fund sets the party’s budget, some members were not fully aware of the details of Scheer’s spending. The deal to cover tuition costs for Scheer’s children was struck between him and Van Vugt, who had called it standard practice.

“All proper procedures were followed and signed off on by the appropriate people,” he said in a statement the same day Scheer stepped down.

But some members of the Fund disagreed. Van Vugt subsequently left the job.

Replacing him with Girard was one of a series of decisions adopted by the party’s national council on Friday as they seek to sort out the mess created by Scheer and Van Vugt’s departure.

Another: punting April’s planned policy convention to November in order to free up more room to organize the leadership race.

The committee who will be in charge of that is expected to be named in the coming days. They’ll in turn have to sort out when and where the vote will take place, and the rules for it, including the entry fee and number of signatures required to run.

Though several people — including former Quebec premier Jean Charest and former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose — have signalled an interest in running for the leadership, all are waiting for clarity on the rules and deadlines before they commit. Other potential contenders include current Conservative MPs and former cabinet ministers Pierre Poilievre, Erin O’Toole and Michael Chong, as well as former MPs and cabinet ministers Peter MacKay and James Moore.

Meanwhile, there is ongoing debate about the scope of Scheer’s expense accounts.

Scheer’s office has repeatedly said they have “nothing to add” when asked for clarification about how Scheer used the money, the decision to fire Van Vugt, or whether he’ll support a line-by-line review of his expenses.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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