The B.C. Liberal party can go ahead with the scheduled release of the results of its leadership contest later Saturday after a judge rejected a last-minute bid to delay the process.
Justice Heather MacNaughton ruled against a petition brought by Vikram Bajwa, a longtime party member who asked the B.C. Supreme Court for an order delaying the release of the results over concerns about the Liberals’ recent audit of new members it signed up during the leadership campaign.
Concerns about new party memberships were raised by several leadership candidates during the campaign.
MacNaughton said Bajwa’s evidence was speculative and delaying the results would be unfair to other party members. She also found a delay would have caused irreparable harm to the party, which has been without an elected leader since late 2020.
“Elections should not be lightly overturned because doing so would disenfranchise not only those persons whose votes were disqualified, but every electorate who voted,” MacNaughton said in delivering her oral decision on Saturday.
“To accept that an injunction is required here would be to accept the election processes can be arrested on the theories of any member or interested party. This would result in a far more serious threat to the democratic process.”
Bajwa wanted the results delayed for 15 days and for an order that would have required the Liberals to provide details of its audit of thousands of new members signed up during the leadership campaign.
A lawyer for the party argued in court on Friday that Bajwa had not provided substantial evidence to support his concerns of voter irregularities, and the party’s own evidence showed reasonable steps were taken to ensure voter eligibility.
MacNaughton said she had to weigh which party would suffer the greatest harm from her decision.
“I expect that if the leadership election results are released, Mr. Bajwa will not suffer irreparable harm.”
She said he may challenge the result after the election, if he can prove voter irregularities occurred and affected the process.
Voting began Thursday in the race between legislature members Michael Lee, Ellis Ross and Renee Merrifield; business leaders Gavin Dew, Val Litwin and Stan Sipos; and Kevin Falcon, a former B.C. cabinet minister.
The party gained more than 20,000 members during the leadership process for a total of about 43,000, who could vote online or by phone for a new leader to replace Andrew Wilkinson after his resignation following the party’s 2020 election defeat.
– Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press