MLA’s election opposed
Rival asks court to toss out result
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.