Would-be candidate challenging PC nomination ordered to pay party $136K in legal costs

An Ontario court judge has ordered that a Hamilton man battling the Ontario PC party in court has to pay the party $136,315 in legal fees.

Ruling comes as Vikram Singh tries to force judicial review of Hamilton nomination meeting

Patrick Brown cuts a cake alongside Vikram Singh at a fundraising dinner held by Singh's family on Dec. 28. Singh has asked for a judicial review into the nomination of Ben Levitt. An Ontario superior court judge just ruled that Singh pay the party $136,315 in legal costs. (Patrick Brown/Twitter)

An Ontario court judge has ordered that a Hamilton man battling the Ontario PC party in court has to pay the party $136,315 in legal fees.

That ruling against Vikram Singh, who vied for the Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas (HWAD) nomination earlier this year, comes as he is asking for a judicial review into what he describes as vote tampering and ballot box stuffing during the riding's nomination meeting in May.

But on Friday, Justice Peter J. Cavanagh delivered a blow. Singh, a 31-year-old Dundas lawyer, has to pay the party and its executive director, Bob Stanley, for legal costs of as much as $450 per hour for one lawyer.

Singh has 30 days to pay the costs, says the decision, a copy of which was obtained by the CBC.

The judgment stems from a legal dispute over a recorded conversation Singh submitted as part of his evidence.

"They have no idea who they’re messing with," says Jeff Peller, who says the finding against Singh doesn't deter his plans to pursue his own request for a review. (Jeff Peller campaign)

Singh submitted the conversation between himself and party members involved in the PC campaign to try to bolster his case that leader Patrick Brown had fixed the nomination.

The party successfully sought a publication ban on the contents of that conversation. The $136,315 is to pay the party's legal fees to have the conversation stricken from public record.

This is the latest in a months-long David and Goliath-style battle between the two that involves talk of trust, loyalty, diversity and whether nomination meetings ultimately matter.

Singh announced his intention to run for the HWAD nomination in December. Brown attended a fundraising dinner at Singh's parents home that raised $20,000 for the party, and cut a celebratory cake with Singh. 

But at the nomination meeting May 7, party insider Ben Levitt was pronounced the winner. Both Singh and would-be candidate Jeff Peller alleged the party fixed the vote, and asked the party to review the proceedings.

Instead, Brown declared Levitt the nominee on June 3 when he certified all of the Ontario candidates nominated so far for next June's provincial election. Singh and Peller both asked the court for a judicial review. Hamilton police are also investigating.

Ben Levitt, 25, is Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas's provincial PC candidate. (Adam Lawson)

In a response to Singh's application, Ontario party president Rick Dykstra called Levitt a "risk-free candidate" who fit a demographic that would appeal to the riding. And at 25, he said, Levitt's youth provided a "specific element of diversity."

There was "a sense that Vikram might not be a reliable team player," Dykstra said in a court document. It also alluded to 30-year-old family ties to a Sikh political organization.

He also pointed out that Brown can nominate any candidate he likes regardless of the outcome of nomination meetings.

As for this judgment, the party sought costs based on an hourly rate of $550 for a senior counsel, $370 for second counsel and $260 and $205 for two associates.

Cavanagh ruled those rates were "somewhat high" for this case, and allowed for rates of $450, $325, $225 and $175.

Singh argued that those costs should be reduced because he was pursuing the case in the public interest. Cavanagh ruled against that.

Both Peller and Singh's cases are due in Hamilton court again on Sept. 11. Peller said the finding against Singh doesn't deter him.

And if Singh can't afford to continue, Peller said, he'll keep pursing this anyway.

"It only takes one," Peller said. "They have no idea who they're messing with."

Neither Singh nor the party would comment. 

HWAD is one of a several ridings where the outcome of PC nominations have been disputed.

In Scarborough Centre, for example, Thenusha Parani's nomination is being contested, as is the extent of her volunteer work with Toronto Police. Nominations have also been disputed in Ottawa West-Nepean and Newmarket-Aurora.

Levitt will run against Ted McMeekin, HWAD's Liberal incumbent.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC