Supreme Court set to rule on Etobicoke Centre vote dispute
Decision could trigger byelection over voting irregularities at polling stations
The Supreme Court of Canada will announce next week its judgment on the appeal by Conservative MP Ted Opitz of a lower court ruling that overturned the election result in Etobicoke Centre, the court said Friday.
If Opitz loses when the judgment is announced next Thursday, he ceases to be the MP for the southern Ontario riding and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will have to announce a date for a byelection within six months.
Former three-time Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj lost the election by just 26 votes on May 2, 2011. He contested the results in court, citing numerous errors involving missing paperwork that he claimed meant there was no certainty as to the true identity of many voters.
In May Justice Thomas Lederer of the Ontario Superior Court agreed, tossing out 79 ballots, easily overcoming the 26 vote plurality. Opitz appealed that decision directly to the top court. The Canada Elections Act dictates that contested elections must be resolved speedily and Appeals Court can be skipped.
Lederer found no evidence of wrongdoing by either Opitz nor Wrzesnewskyj, nor by any of the voters.
In a rare summer hearing, the Supreme Court heard Opitz's appeal in July. Wreznewskyj cross-appealed, arguing that even more ballots ought to have been discarded due to careless record keeping by elections officials.
The Supreme Court's announcement of its decision date came while Opitz and 500 other Canadians were listening to an address by Prime Minister Stephen Harper before they depart for Ukraine to monitor the Oct. 28 election there, the largest such mission ever undertaken by Canada.
Opitz is one of the MPs selected by the government as an observer to ensure a free and fair election process in Ukraine. He participated in both Canadian and United Nations training for monitoring elections, but it's not known now whether he will still attend, given the Supreme Court decision will be announced just three days before the Ukrainian vote.
The highest court's decision will likely affect the way elections in Canada are conducted in the future. The errors that occurred in Etobicoke Centre were made by the polling officials who are hired by Elections Canada to work the day of an election.
At the lower court there was a recognition that on a day when 180,000 temporary workers are staffing polls, mistakes are bound to be made. The judge had to decide on whether the errors were serious enough that some ballots should never to have made it in to the ballot box.
Depending on the outcome next Thursday, Elections Canada may have to spend a lot of time and money training elections officials.