Campaign battle lines are forming in a Toronto riding where a judge recently overturned the 2011 federal ballot results, the first such court-ordered upset in nearly a generation and one that could trigger a new by-election test for the Harper government.
The defeated Liberal MP who convinced a judge last week to void the Etobicoke Centre election is now alleging his loss was due to more than just the clerical errors that prompted Ontario’s Superior Court to rule in favour of a do-over.
At an Ottawa news conference that sounded more like a campaign speech, Borys Wrzesnewskyj on Thursday urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call a by-election as soon as possible, rather than exercise the Tories’ right to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Wrzesnewskyj then proceeded to allege that Conservative Party supporters suppressed the Liberal vote in Etobicoke Centre, citing statements his lawyer had gathered from Elections Canada staff.
The Liberals lost Etobicoke Centre to Tory Ted Opitz by only 26 votes on May 2, 2011.
“What a disturbing thought we could have benefitted in Canada from having outside observers to guarantee the integrity of our electoral system,” Mr. Wrzesnewskyj said.
He accused the Tories of working to shut down – at least temporarily – an election-day polling station at a Ukrainian Canadian senior’s residence in his riding. This location, Mr. Wrzesnewskyj said, was in an area that traditionally has registered strong support for him.
“At peak voting time, individuals came into that location, and created, according to the sworn affidavits of all three elections Canada officials that worked there that day, enough of a disturbance that the poll was shut down,” he said.
He alleged that seniors were discouraged from voting. “To think that someone would take that vote away, that right away, from Ukrainian Canadian seniors in my riding, I was shocked when I first heard it.”
The Conservatives immediately set to work trying to debunk Mr. Wrzesnewskyj’s claims, saying he was trying to resurrect allegations he had abandoned in his court challenge.
“Borys is attempting to turn baseless smears into an art form, but the judge was very clear in his ruling that Ted Opitz and the Conservative campaign followed the rules,” Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said.
The May 18 court ruling in Etobicoke Centre is only the sixth time since 1949 that a Canadian court has set aside federal election results in a riding. A judge last threw out the federal ballot outcome 22 years ago in York North.
The Conservatives have until Monday, May 28, to appeal. An appeal risks making them look scared to face voters, but it could also function as a delaying tactic, giving them more time to ready for a battle in Etobicoke Centre.
A by-election would test how much strength the much-diminished Liberals retain in their former Toronto stronghold, as well as the extent to which new NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is able to attract centrist voters.