Judge rejects former mayor's claim that election rival buttered up voters with pastries
Former mayor Lorraine Michetti cited pastry purchases in bid to overturn 2022 results, unseat Danielle Veach
In this story about allegations of electoral misconduct, there are no wild conspiracy theories about supercomputers changing votes, bags of ballots being tossed in the trash or thousands of dead people voting.
Instead, the would-be scandal surrounding one small B.C. town's recent mayoral election centres on six cinnamon buns and a bit of local gossip.
But just like a certain ex-U.S. president, former Pouce Coupe mayor Lorraine Michetti has had no luck convincing the courts that her adversary cheated to win.
On Tuesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ward Branch tossed out Michetti's application to overturn the results of October's election and unseat Mayor Danielle Veach, who defeated Michetti by a margin of just five votes.
As Branch notes in his judgment, the small northeastern village of fewer than 800 people "has recently been the subject of several political firestorms well out of proportion to its size."
Those firestorms have all involved Michetti, who served as mayor from 2016 to 2022, and was the subject of multiple calls to resign over allegations of anti-Indigenous racism and social media posts likening gun owners to Holocaust victims.
In her latest foray into the public eye, Michetti accused Veach of vote-buying when she purchased coffee, tea and six cinnamon rolls as refreshments for a "Tea and Talk" campaign event at a local cafe.
But Branch said no reasonable voter could be convinced to change their political allegiance based on a pastry and a hot drink.
Indeed, Lauranne Saffran, one of just a handful of Pouce Coupe residents who attended the event, testified that it was "totally ridiculous" to suggest her vote could be purchased this way.
Instead, Branch wrote, Veach was acting out of "simple human decency and politeness," and "while there undoubtedly could be dining options provided by a candidate that would cross the line into an effort to induce a change in voting intentions, the simple drinks and buns provided here did not cross this line."
Candidates aren't responsible for mere 'impressions'
Michetti also claimed Veach committed voter intimidation by falsely alleging that Michetti caused the suicide of the village's previous chief administrator, and endangered a local woman's safety by disclosing her contact information to an abusive ex-husband.
That somewhat complicated set of arguments stemmed from comments Veach allegedly made at the same "Tea and Talk" and a separate reconciliation event.
According to the judgment, the sole source for Veach's alleged misrepresentations at the "Tea and Talk" was then-council candidate James Wall, who was "extremely angry" with Veach that day because of comments she'd made in support of Indigenous self-governance.
But in court, Wall could not recall the words Veach allegedly used to suggest Michetti was responsible for the suicide of Carol Bishop, whom Michetti had filed a defamation lawsuit against. Instead, he told the court he was left "with the impression" Veach held that belief.
The judge said it would be "very dangerous" to hold candidates responsible for mere "impressions" left in the mind of one voter.
In the second alleged misrepresentation, Michetti claimed Veach had wrongly accused her of disclosing a voter's contact information to her ex-husband when she was "in a witness protection program."
But Branch found there was no false statement and Veach hadn't said anything meant to intimidate voters.
Although Veach was wrong to suggest the woman was in witness protection when she was really the subject of a protection order, the judge said the error was an "innocent mis-statement."
And any comments Veach made to that effect, Branch added, were simply echoing the woman's own public statements at a council meeting. The person to whom Veach was talking, meanwhile, wasn't even eligible to vote in the Pouce Coupe election.
The judge went on to note that Michetti also made more general allegations of electoral interference, which he dismissed out of hand.
"Ms. Michetti suggests that an inference can be drawn that Mrs. Veach must have engaged in some misconduct because, although Ms. Michetti obtained 104 signatures for her nomination, her vote count in the election was reduced to 79," Branch wrote.
"However, there could be any number of reasons why such a decline in support could occur, including her own performance over the course of the campaign."
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