Would-be Green Party candidate convinced she didn't miss Elections NB deadline
Agency says Kimberly-Mai Therrien arrived at 2:02 p.m.
Elections NB says the Green Party candidate for Shediac Bay-Dieppe arrived at the Grand-Digue returning office two minutes after the filing deadline Friday and that's why her nomination papers were rejected.
The Elections Act is very firm on the cutoff, wrote director of communications Paul Harpelle after speaking to Chief Electoral Officer Kim Poffenroth.
"The returning officer in the electoral district contacted us after the official 2 p.m. close of nominations to inform us the candidate had arrived at 2:02 p.m." Harpellee explained in an email. "Both the returning officer and another election official confirmed the 2 p.m. deadline had passed."
Kimberly-Mai Therrien says that can't be right.
She and her fiancé, Mario Gaudreau, who was also acting as her campaign manager, are both convinced they arrived at the Notre Centre on Route 530 at 2 p.m.
"My heart was pounding," said Therrien, describing how she felt when she raced up the stairs to the Elections NB returning office.
"There was mild sweating. It was so fast but I was so happy that I made it."
Therrien said she put down her papers on the desk, but the returning officer told her she didn't make it on time.
"She said she watched for me in the door at two, but I wasn't there," Therrien said.
Gaudreau said he and Therrien both went back to the parking lot, feeling dejected.
Not allowed to check security cameras
Then he started to think about the security cameras operated by the community centre and wondered if the footage and time stamps could help determine exactly what happened.
He said he asked the returning officer, Bernice Williams, if the video could be checked, but she said no.
He also said that in one of his conversations with Williams, she described Therrien as one minute late.
Williams is the spouse of Claude Williams, the president of the New Brunswick Progressive Conservative Party.
Claude Williams was first elected as a PC MLA in a byelection in 2001 and then re-elected in 2003 and 2006.
He served briefly in the Bernard Lord cabinet as minister of education. He successfully ran again in 2010 while David Alward was leader and served in that cabinet as minister of transportation until his defeat in 2014.
Green Party Leader David Coon said there's probably not much that can be done at this point.
"It was a question of two different opinions and the returning officer has the final say," Coon said during a campaign stop in Kedgwick.
"There should be some way of clarifying exactly what time someone arrives to ensure everyone is treated fairly."
Couple shaken by incident
Coon said there are parts of the process that need to be reformed.
"Elections NB had proposed amendments to the Elections Act to help ensure fairness in the system," said Coon.
"For example, to end the practice of the governing party appointing the returning officer. It should be Elections New Brunswick's job to appoint the returning officers, so that if there is a dispute, there would be no perception of any kind of bias."
Therrien and Gaudreau said they're still shaken by what happened.
It was their first attempt to be involved in politics.
Therrien said the party had been looking at another candidate, but when he dropped out, she stepped forward.
Green Party campaign manager Marco Morency said Therrien wasn't vetted and approved until Wednesday.
The next day she was being introduced at a news conference in Moncton.
She was also trying to keep up with her work and parenting duties. Therrien is a photographer and has a nine-year-old son.
She delegated Gaudreau to help her gather the required 25 signatures, which he did accomplish on Thursday.
On Friday, they said they thought it would be best if they could gather an extra five names in case anyone on their list was rejected by the commissioner of oaths.
Then they had to drive to the Service New Brunswick office in Shediac, where they asked to cut in line to see the commissioner.
"Mario asked everybody, 'People! My girlfriend is running for the Green Party, could you let us in?'"
'It's taken out a democratic option'
With precious minutes ticking by, they then drove to the returning office in Grand-Digue.
Therrien jumped out of the vehicle at the front door while Gaudreau went to park.
"I unbuckled my seatbelt, and I ran into the centre, and it was two o'clock!" said Therrien. "I made it!"
Gaudreau said he was also looking at his phone, and he saw two o'clock when he got inside and climbed the stairs.
Therrien said the returning officer said her cellphone said 2:02.
"But when I checked my watch after that conversation, it said 2:01," said Therrien.
It's been a real disappointment and as of Monday, Therrien was still feeling the sting.
"For the community to be able to vote for the Green Party, I needed to represent myself," she said.
"I felt sad that I let everybody down because now they cannot vote for the Green Party. It's taken out a democratic option."