Chatham-Kent—Leamington Liberal candidate Audrey Festeryga has withdrawn from the provincial election after the NDP raised concerns about her nomination.
In a statement on Thursday, Festeryga said she was stepping aside due to the NDP's "relentless personal attacks" and to protect her family and her name.
"This decision was also made based on my personal sense of morals and ethics," said Festeryga, who has declined an interview request from CBC News.
Her withdrawal comes just a week before the June 2 election, with advance voting already underway.
The New Democrats have alleged that the Liberal Party broke electoral rules when filing nomination papers for Festeryga.
On May 12, the Liberals announced Festeryga would run for the seat following the removal of the previous candidate, Alec Mazurek, after social media posts containing homophobic slurs made eight years ago were shared by the NDP.
However, the removal came just hours before the deadline to file nomination papers, which require the signatures of at least 25 electors in the riding.
NDP alleges signatures transferred
According to Elections Ontario documents, "on the nomination paper you will need the signatures and addresses of at least 25 eligible electors in the electoral district in which you are running. These addresses will be verified by election officials when you file your papers."
The NDP is alleging that the Liberals transferred signatures gathered for Mazurek's nomination to that of Festeryga, something the party says is not allowed under Ontario electoral rules.
The party says it's been told an investigation is underway, but in a statement, a spokesperson for Elections Ontario said it doesn't comment on whether it has received a complaint or whether a particular matter is under investigation.
The NDP held a press conference with outgoing Essex MPP Taras Natyshak on Wednesday, saying there is evidence of fraud and calling on Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca to remove Festeryga as a candidate.
At a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, Del Duca accused the NDP and its leader, Andrea Horwath, of trying to undermine a female candidate. He did not directly address whether the NDP's allegations were credible.
"The fact that, when we are all supposed to be doing more to encourage women in particular to step up and to run for elected office, that Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP would be out there attacking a woman every single day, questioning her integrity, questioning her reputation, trying to do everything they can in the most despicable way imaginable is, again, appalling and unconscionable," Del Duca said.
Horwath fired back at Del Duca when speaking to reporters on Thursday afternoon, saying he should take responsibility for his actions.
"Election fraud is election fraud. You don't just point fingers at other people. You stand up, admit you've made a mistake and try to do better next time," she said.
In her statement, Festeryga said it was "sad" to see what the NDP has become under Horwath, and she accused the party of trying to stop people from voting Liberal.
"I have been a Liberal candidate in this area in three federal elections. In this provincial election, Elections Ontario has verified my candidacy. No other candidates have raised any concerns about my nomination," Festeryga said.
The following candidates, listed in alphabetical order, are running in Chatham-Kent—Leamington:
Trevor Jones, Progressive Conservative Party.
Rhonda Jubenville, New Blue Party.
Brock McGregor, NDP.
Rick Nicholls (incumbent), Ontario Party.
Jennifer Surerus, Green Party.