TORONTO - The Progressive Conservatives are flatly denying that party hopefuls are being pushed aside to make room for star candidates ahead of the fall election.

"Everyone has the right to run," deputy Opposition leader Christine Elliott said Tuesday.

"We can't, we do not have the ability to throw people aside. If people want to run, they have the ability to run."

Conservative Lisa MacLeod ran as an "underdog" in her Ottawa riding before she was elected in 2003, Elliott noted.

Some people may drop out if they don't think they'll get enough support to win the party's nomination, but no one is being asked -- even behind the scenes -- to step aside, she said.

"I think that if you look at it at the end of the day, we don't appoint candidates," she said. "The Liberals do. We don't, we let people run."

Questions have been raised about how the Tories nominate candidates after the party announced Tuesday that newspaper columnist Randall Denley would seek the nomination in Ottawa-West Nepean, currently held by Liberal cabinet minister Bob Chiarelli.

"There were three other individuals who had expressed interest in running in that riding, but they have since withdrawn," party spokesman Alan Sakach said in an email.

The party also backed TV anchorwoman Donna Skelly in the Hamilton-area riding of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale. The move sparked the resignation of some members of the local riding association who supported Chris Corrigan, a retired colonel who ran as the Tory candidate in the 2007 election.

Sources say the party brass has shut out candidates who wanted to seek nominations in other ridings, which is alienating supporters and could hurt the Conservatives in the Oct. 6 election.

Five people tried to seek the party nomination in Bramalea-Gore-Malton, but were shut out of the process, said one source. Sanjeev Maingi was officially nominated as the Tory candidate in January.

The party refused to approve at least one nomination application that was passed on by the local riding association, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press.

Party president Ken Zeise confirmed in an email last December that the party would "prefer" that the candidate not apply for the party's nomination in the riding west of Toronto.

Another would-be candidate simply withdrew his application in frustration, saying it was clear the party would accept no one else but Maingi.

"Anyone else who applies is going to be disqualified, and there is not going to be any voting for the nomination," he wrote in a letter to Zeise.

Having served on the riding association, he said he thought he would be a strong representative for the party.

"However, throughout the course of this nomination, I have seen the most basic principles of honesty and integrity violated," he wrote.

"The actions of the party clearly went against the constitution for which it stands, yet everyone has seemed to turn a blind eye to that."

Asked why the party passed on the other applicants, Sakach said: "We do have a screening process, and not everyone who wishes to run as a candidate automatically gets through it."

Tory Leader Tim Hudak has maintained that his party encourages a democratic nomination process, unlike Premier Dalton McGuinty, who is allowed to appoint candidates under Liberal rules.

It was one of the reasons why Hudak said he wouldn't intervene on behalf of former cabinet minister Norm Sterling, who lost his nomination in a long drawn-out battle with rookie Jack MacLaren.

Sterling, who represented the Ottawa-area riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills for 34 years, had complained that fellow Tory Randy Hillier campaigned on behalf of MacLaren.

MacLaren is a former director of the Ontario Landowners Association, a rural-based property rights group that Hillier helped found.