Calgary Herald

MLA’s election opposed

Rival asks court to toss out result

- RENATA D’ALIESIO CALGARY HERALD

The runner-up in the Calgary- Montrose provincial election race is asking the courts to toss out the riding’s result, alleging an array of voting irregulari­ties — including non-Canadians and non-residents being encouraged to vote — compromise­d the outcome.

In a petition to the Court of Queen’s Bench, independen­t candidate Ron Leech, a pastor at Eastside City Church, accuses first-time Tory MLA Manmeet Bhullar and his supporters of spurring ineligible voters to cast ballots, interferin­g with and influencin­g the ballots cast, and violating secrecy of the voting process.

The legal action is in its early stages and the allegation­s have not been proven.

Leech declined to comment Friday because the case is before the courts.

Bhullar said the accusation­s have no merit. However, he cited the same reason as Leech for declining to offer greater detail or explain why his lawyer sought to block access to Elections Alberta documents.

“Everything from my campaign’s perspectiv­e was done with the highest standards because that’s the way you engage people in the process is by bringing people together on positivity and unity, and unfortunat­ely, some people don’t believe that,” said Bhullar, who beat Leech by 617 votes.

“I am absolutely certain that things will work out the way that they’re supposed to.”

The Calgary-Montrose riding has been rife with controvers­y in the past.

Its previous MLA, Hung Pham, quit in January after 15 years of representi­ng the eastend riding. Pham criticized the Progressiv­e Conservati­ve Party for failing to help a group of local volunteers with huge legal bills accumulate­d while defending the constituen­cy associatio­n against a different lawsuit.

In the race to replace Pham before the March election, a nasty tug of war erupted between the Tory riding associatio­n and the PC party.

The party rejected the riding’s choice — Leech — instead hand-picking Bhullar, a secondyear university law student and an active volunteer.

After the provincial vote, all candidates were given 30 days to examine election documents.

Leech began legal action in May after his representa­tive reviewed some of the election documents from the CalgaryMon­trose riding.

The pastor is seeking copies of those documents, claiming they contain the evidence he needs to prove voting irregulari­ties and violations of the Elections Act substantia­lly affected the outcome.

His court petition outlines 13 grievances, including:

Representa­tives of Bhullar translated ballots into Hindi and Punjabi for voters and marked their ballots without proper authorizat­ion;

Bhullar’s representa­tives encouraged non-Canadian citizens to vote;

People who didn’t live in the riding voted “at the behest of or with the encouragem­ent of Bhullar”;

And more than 1,000 oath of elector forms were sworn at the Montrose riding, many without proper documentat­ion.

In a Calgary courtroom on Thursday, Bhullar’s lawyer, Ivan Bernardo, contended the high number of oaths were due to widespread enumeratio­n problems.

“My understand­ing . . . is many people weren’t on the list,” said Bernardo, who accused Leech of going on a “fishing expedition.”

Bernardo received go-ahead from the courts Thursday to cross-examine Leech next month. In court documents, Bhullar refutes all of the allegation­s.

“Even if the facts plead were true,” a document states, “they are not sufficient to have had a material impact on the results of the election.”

Alberta’s deputy chief electoral officer, Lori McKee-Jeske, said Friday the organizati­on has agreed to give Leech access to the documents. The pastor hasn’t received them yet.

McKee-Jeske said the Calgary-Montrose election is the only one being contested in the courts. Elections Alberta has not launched an investigat­ion.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Liberals have asked the province’s auditor general to investigat­e a slew of other alleged irregulari­ties from the March 3 vote.

Based on first-hand accounts and hundreds of pages of supporting documents collected by the Liberals, the opposition party contends there was widespread chaos in the lead-up to the election and at polling stations on voting day.

The Liberals recently received a re- sponse from the auditor general, but they’re seeking to clarify the contents of his letter.

 ??  ?? Ron Leech
Ron Leech
 ??  ?? Manmeet Bhullar
Manmeet Bhullar

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