Joey Restaurants managers took part in a unique employee reward program last week - sell at least 25 provincial Liberal memberships in support of Kevin Falcon's leadership bid and win an iPad. But the restaurant chain's president and chief executive officer Jeff Fuller is now scrapping that offer amid growing controversy surrounding the party's membership signup process.
In an interview, Mr. Fuller - who has seven restaurants in British Columbia - said he made the offer just before last Friday's deadline to become a Liberal member and be eligible to participate in the party's upcoming leadership vote.
"Around last week - Monday or Tuesday - I started looking at how we were doing. I was quite happy with some of the results I was seeing," he said.
As a result, Mr. Fuller - a member of Falcon 20/20, the third-party business group endorsing the former health services minister's campaign to succeed Gordon Campbell - said he wanted to recognize the hard work his managers were putting in to recruit new party members. That's why he made the iPad offer.
But no iPads have been purchased, nor will they be.
"I think it was a big mistake on my part - solely driven by me," he acknowledged. "So I have to circle back with that team and explain it's probably off-side."
Mr. Fuller, who chalked up the mistake to being a political neophyte, said he offered no other incentives were offered to chain employees who recruited party members or signed up as Liberals. He also stressed the entire process was voluntary.
He estimates the restaurant chain's efforts have resulted in close to 200 new Liberals joining the party.
Mr. Falcon's campaign manager Norman Stowe said of the aborted incentive: "We would prefer that everybody was active because they were genuinely interested and didn't need a particular inducement."
Yesterday, CKNW's Brett Mineer also reported on apparent irregularities in the sign-up of members at a Joeys Restaurant in Kelowna.
According to a partial membership list obtained by Mr. Mineer, 40 people identify the phone number of that restaurant as their own phone number and 24 of the people apparently live there.
In response, Joey Restaurants has released a statement saying that each person who signed-up there "did so because they were genuinely interested in becoming a member of the Liberal Party."
As such, Joey Restaurants is "working with the BC Liberal Party to do all we can to ensure that these memberships are brought into compliance."