Former Liberal candidate Lesley Hughes announced Thursday that she'll sit as an Independent if she's elected Oct. 14 in Manitoba's Kildonan-St. Paul riding.  

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Lesley Hughes says the controversy over her statements in an old column amount to 'the theatre of the absurd,' but apologized for any perception of anti-Semitism in her writings. ((CBC))

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion fired Hughes last week over an article she wrote six years ago as a freelance journalist. She had suggested Israeli intelligence warned the U.S. in advance of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, and that Israeli businesses vacated the premises before the attack.

Hughes, a former CBC journalist, has defended her writing, saying the article is "very clearly innocent of any kind of anti-Semitic feeling," and noting that she taught about the Holocaust for more than a decade at the University of Winnipeg and wrote a biography of a leading figure in the Jewish community.

Hughes has continued to appear at debates and discuss issues with constituents.

Her former Liberal campaign manager, Selina Bieber, is still at her side.

"I've been pleasantly surprised and heart-warmed by the level of support she's received," Bieber said. "It's really good. It gives me confidence in the electorate, in their intelligence, and their ability to read and speak English, and comprehend it and really be objective."

Hughes said running as an Independent would send a message to the Liberal party: "That I'm not a willing victim, that the democratic process is a factor here.

"We need to consider how this is playing out in the community," she said.

Name still on ballot

Bieber and Hughes made their announcement at the same campaign headquarters they used when Hughes was running as a Liberal, which has Manitoba Liberal campaign co-chair Sharon Carstairs mystified.

"That property was leased by the Liberal Association of Kildonan-St. Paul," she said. "It is hard for me to understand how Ms. Hughes can hold a press conference in property which, quite frankly, she has no authorization to use."

Hughes hasn't returned any calls from the party since last week to wrap up financial details and pay off any debts she incurred under the Liberal banner, Carstairs said.

Since the Sept. 22 nomination deadline had passed before Hughes was fired, her name will still appear on the ballot as a Liberal. She could technically win the race in the riding, though not under the Liberal banner.

Winnipeg lawyer and longtime Liberal Naomi Levine says that's going to pose problems.

"I think it's going to be monumentally confusing to the voter," she said. "Her name is now on the ticket with the Liberal sign beside her. Many voters will probably not give a damn, not have heard, not understood that she isn't still running as a Liberal, and they vote for her."

Liberals 'lose their vote?'

If Hughes runs as an Independent and wins, Levine wonders where that leaves Liberal voters: "Does that mean that the voters who don't really know her but have voted for a Liberal, in effect, lose their vote?"

Elections Canada should have come up with a way to deal with the issue, she said.

Carstairs agrees. "Perhaps Elections Canada has to wait a little bit longer before they make a determination whether ballot paper should be printed," she said, although she acknowledged that could pose a problem, since advance polls open on Friday.

Leanne Nyirfa, regional media spokesperson for Elections Canada, said that from the agency's perspective, the deadline for changes has already passed.

"As far as Elections Canada is concerned, because that change wasn't made [in time], she is a Liberal candidate," she said.

"I guess it would be up to the party to let people know that that's not a person that they're endorsing for their campaign — but again, that's not something that Elections Canada would get into."

Financial issues

Carstairs said if Hughes wins, the party would not object to her sitting as an Independent.

But money issues are also a factor: Hughes said according to Elections Canada, she must report spending on the campaign through the Liberals; she doesn't see how that can work if she's no longer aligned with the party.

There's also the question of the $1.75 per vote that federal parties receive if they take more than two per cent of the vote nationally, or at least five per cent in any riding.

Hughes was looking to unseat incumbent Conservative Joy Smith in Kildonan-St. Paul, a riding in the northeast corner of Winnipeg that has fluctuated between the Tories and Liberals.

Smith won her second term in 2006 by nearly 4,000 votes; when she first won the riding in 2004, less than 300 votes separated her from her Liberal rival.