A judge has dismissed an application by former member of Parliament Shelly Glover to throw out the results of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party's leadership vote, which named Heather Stefanson as leader.
Reading a lengthy decision on Friday afternoon, Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice James Edmond said case law makes it clear that elections cannot be lightly overturned.
Edmond said Glover had to prove not only that there were irregularities in the vote but that they substantially impacted the outcome. Stefanson was chosen as the governing party's leader on Oct. 30 and was sworn in as Manitoba's premier a few days later.
"I'm satisfied the existence of an irregularity alone isn't enough for a court to interfere," Edmond said, reading from his decision.
Edmond said he disagreed with Glover's argument that the province's Elections Act applied to the leadership race. He said that legislation applies to the election of MLAs, not leaders of a party like the Progressive Conservatives, which have their own set of policies.
He said Glover's campaign could have objected to those rules, but didn't.
Edmond went on to say that while he accepted that some of the vote tally sheets were not signed or initialled properly — a key argument in Glover's case — there was no evidence they were inaccurate.
The judge said he was satisfied that only valid ballots were put in ballot boxes and that there was no proof that additional ballots were put in as well, though he did accept that the party's failure to seal some of the ballot boxes after the count was improper.
Edmond also accepted that there were some irregularities in the vote count process but said that on balance, he was satisfied the election was carried out in a proper, fair manner, in accordance with the party's rules.
His decision was handed down one week after a day-long hearing into Glover's application.
It was live streamed on CBC Manitoba's website after everyone involved in the case consented to the presence of television cameras in the courtroom. The full hearing will be posted online at a later date.
Matter of public interest: judge
Edmond was not conducting a review or judicial recount of the PC leadership race, which came after Brian Pallister announced his resignation in August. Stefanson took 51 per cent of ballots cast, winning by a margin of just 363 votes.
Instead, the judge said he would consider whether there were any breaches of the party's constitution or the rules and procedures established for the leadership race.
Even if he had decided to order a new vote, the court does not have the power to remove Stefanson from office.
Following the decision, Glover said she was disappointed "but I think the judge made it clear that there were a number of things that were not done properly."
But her lawyer, Dave Hill, said he said he thought the application was ultimately dismissed because they weren't able to prove that any ballots were actually added or subtracted from the boxes.
"If we had evidence that somebody put their hand in the cookie jar, this wouldn't have had to go to court," he said.
"But in the end, we couldn't prove that somebody put some additional ballots in a box."
In a statement, the party's president Tom Wiebe said Edmond's decision confirms that the election was done fairly.
Weeks after the leadership vote results were announced, Glover conceded defeat.
"I am conceding the election to Heather Stefanson at this point. But I am very, very, very convinced that this was a very, very, very flawed election," Glover said. "It was flawed, it was inconsistent and we need to do better."
As for an appeal, Hill said it is difficult to appeal a discretionary decision.
However, Glover made a recommendation to the party in the wake of irregularities that occurred.
"In an effort to make this party better, I would suggest very strongly that an outside review be done of the election and that recommendations be made to the party so that this never happens again," she said.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how Glover's supporters react, and how that impacts the impeding provincial election two years from now, said veteran Winnipeg political analyst Paul Thomas.
"Will they simply leave the party and continue to insist that they were denied a fair election contest?" he said.
"And if that's the case, if they go out and continue to complain about it, it will continue to be a cloud that hangs over the premier and the party as it tries to rebuild with less than two years to go before the next election."
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