A judge has reserved her decision on a last-minute petition that asks the British Columbia Supreme Court to delay the scheduled release of results from the B.C. Liberal party’s leadership vote on Saturday.
Justice Heather MacNaughton said Friday she expects to deliver her decision and reasons at midday Saturday, hours before the results are expected to be released.
Longtime party member Vikram Bajwa asked the court to delay the release for 15 days, and for an order that would require the Liberals to provide details of its audit of thousands of new members signed up during the leadership campaign.
Bajwa’s lawyer, Greg Allen, told the court by phone that the party has an obligation to his client to ensure that no invalid members are being allowed to cast a ballot, which could effectively disenfranchise members who are in good standing.
Andrew Nathanson, a lawyer for the party, said Bajwa had not provided substantial evidence to support his concerns of voter irregularities, and the party’s own evidence showed reasonable steps were taken to ensure voter eligibility.
“The evidence is that an extensive audit was conducted by the party, with input from the campaigns, and it has resulted in the exclusion of some members found to be ineligible,” he said, adding the party’s rules give the leadership election organizing committee discretion over whether to release details of the audit.
He said any harm to Bajwa was speculative, while delaying the release of the leadership results would cause irreparable harm to the party. The new leader has decisions that must be made before the next legislative session gets under way Tuesday, he told the court.
Voting for a new leader began Thursday.
Allen said his client has been raising concerns about potential irregularities with the party and leadership candidates since November.
He acknowledged that the party’s constitution and rules don’t include formal provisions that give Bajwa the right to receive the information about the audit his petition calls for, but he does have the right to cast a ballot that’s not undermined by votes from members who aren’t in good standing.
Also Friday, the party said it was taking “legal steps” to identify who was behind text messages providing people with false registration codes to vote in the leadership race.
The party has received reports of the messages, but they did not originate from the party, which will not send a text message with a code unless it is requested through the Liberals’ secure site, spokesman David Wasyluk said in a statement.
Wasyluk declined an interview request and the statement from the party did not say how many complaints about the text messages were received.
However, it said members are not able to vote using false verification codes and the returning officer is investigating.
“The party takes any allegations of voter suppression and voter manipulation seriously,” Wasyluk said.
The party gained more than 20,000 members during the leadership process for a total of about 43,000, who may vote online or by phone for a new leader to replace Andrew Wilkinson after his resignation following the party’s 2020 election defeat.
The seven leadership candidates are legislature members Michael Lee, Ellis Ross and Renee Merrifield; business leaders Gavin Dew, Val Litwin and Stan Sipos; and Kevin Falcon, a former B.C. cabinet minister.