The Liberal candidate in Chatham-Kent-Leamington has withdrawn from the provincial election.
Amid accusations of fraud, Audrey Festeryga announced her intention to step away from the election in a statement on May 26, one week before election day.
In a personal statement, Festeryga said she blames the “relentless attacks” of the Ontario New Democratic Party.
“Due to the NDP’s relentless personal attacks, I have made the difficult decision to withdraw as the Liberal candidate for Chatham-Kent-Leamington. This decision was also made based on my personal sense of morals and ethics,” said Festeryga. “I have filed the proper paperwork with Election Ontario to execute this withdrawal.”
The withdrawal comes after the Ontario NDP alleged signatures on her nominations papers were fraudulent and were actually the signatures of people who had signed the nomination papers for former CKL Liberal candidate Alec Mazurek, who was replaced hours before the deadline by the party after the discovery of eight-year-old social media posts, in which he used anti-gay slurs.
“The desperate actions of the NDP and the McGregor campaign did not arise from any pure-hearted motivation, but rather a continued attempt to stop the voters from casting a ballot for the Liberals,” said Festeryga. “I think this behaviour by the NDP is the worst kind of politics, and frankly, attacks like those launched by men like Taras Natyshak are exactly the reason why more women choose not to run for elected office. I’m sad Chatham-Kent-Leamington won’t be able to vote Liberal this time around.”
Her name no longer appears on the Elections Ontario candidate’s list.
Last week, outgoing New Democratic Party MPP for Essex Taras Natyshak doubled down on the allegations. He held a virtual press event to announce that four people had come forward saying they didn’t sign nomination papers for Festeryga, despite their signatures being on the forms.
Natyshak said there is now “clear evidence of fraud” in the Liberal Party’s efforts “to try to improperly register their candidate on the ballot in Chatham-KentLeamington.”
Elections Ontario is currently investigating the matter.
According to NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca’s placed Festeryga in a tough position. She added the alleged elections fraud and the last-minute improper registration of his candidate are on him and his party.
“When people decide to cheat, everyone loses, and he needs to take some responsibility for his actions. Election fraud is election fraud, and you don’t just point fingers at other people. You stand up and admit you made a mistake,” said Horwath.
Liberal Leader Del Duca said Festeryga has integrity, and the relentless NDP attacks on her were not proper and crossed the line.
“I think Andrea Horwath has a lot to answer for as to how she has handled this situation. Sending out a bunch of people from her party to talk about Audrey Festeryga and undercut her at every step along the way is deeply discouraging,” said Del Duca.
According to George Guy Taylor, the returning officer for the Chatham-Kent-Leamington riding, ballots already cast for the withdrawn candidate are counted as rejected.
“Those who already voted for the withdrawn candidate will have their ballots rejected. They will not be able to re-vote,” he said.
Election day is this Thursday, June 2nd.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News