MLA Naresh Bhardwaj won't run while bribery allegations unresolved

Ten days after leaving cabinet amid allegations of bribery, Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj says he won’t run in the next election.

Bhardwaj withdraws candidacy, even though cleared by PCs

Naresh Bhardwaj is the Tory MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie. (CBC)

Ten days after he left cabinet amid allegations of bribery, Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj has announced he won’t run in the next election. 

“I continue to vigorously work to clear up this matter with full and complete confidence that my innocence will be proven absolutely,” he said Monday in a written statement. 

Earlier this month, Bhardwaj left his cabinet post as the associate minister for persons with disabilities while the Conservative Party investigated allegations that he tried to undermine another candidate’s nomination campaign.

According to a story published in the Metro newspaper, party member Balbir Sidhu accused Bhardwaj of offering him, through another person, a $10,000 bribe in return for recanting his official support for candidate Balraj Manhas.

Bhardwaj's statement of claim against Sidhu was filed in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench on March 13.

On the weekend, the party cleared Bhardwaj, saying there were “significant inconsistencies in the evidence" provided against him. 

Despite that, Bhardwaj said he has decided to withdraw his candidacy because the matter is unresolved and the timeline unpredictable. He said he doesn't want “this matter to unfairly impact my premier, my colleagues or my party.”

The NDP wrote a letter last week that asked Edmonton police to investigate the matter. Both Bhardwaj and the PC party have said they will co-operate with any police investigation.

Bhardwaj said he will continue to pursue civil action against the person he believes “improperly and incorrectly advanced this matter.”

Bhardwaj’s statement also said he will continue to represent the people of Edmonton-Ellerslie until the matter is resolved, or the next election campaign begins.

With a potential spring election looming, Bhardwaj’s announcement throws open the PC nomination race in Edmonton-Ellerslie.

Kelly Charlebois, PC party executive director, described the situation as "pretty fluid," saying the party hasn't set a new nomination date for the Edmonton-Ellerslie riding. 

Bhardwaj was not inside the legislative chambers during question period on Monday, but was the subject of conversation outside. 

"He's a great friend and I hope the best for him and his family," said Tory MLA Matt Jeneroux, adding that he was surprised Bhardwaj pulled out of the race.