Salvatore Basilone, Contributor
On Friday an Ontario judge overturned the 2011 Federal Election results from the riding of Etobicoke Centre, which could prompt a by-election as early as this fall. Conservative MP Ted Opitz had won the riding by a mere 26 votes, defeating the Liberal incumbent Boris Wrzesnewskyj. But Justice Thomas Lederer has thrown out 76 of the votes for failure of either proper registration or proper vouching, thus declaring the election “null and void.”
Mr. Wrzesnewskyj launched a court challenge arguing that “irregularities” affected the outcome of the election, and has stated that he would run in a by-election. “This is an incredible victory for Canadian democracy,” Wrzesnewskyj said. “It restores peoples’ confidence in the integrity of our electoral processes.”
Ted Opitz was unsurprisingly upset about the results. “I am disappointed with the decision of the court today,” Opitz said. “This is not about me. It is about 52,000 people who followed the rules, cast their ballots and [Friday] had their democratic decision thrown into doubt.”
Opitz and the Conservative party now have 8 days to appeal the decision, which would have the case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. A hearing could come as early as June. If there is no appeal , or if the Supreme Court upholds Justice Lederer’s decision, the government will call a by-election in that riding.
There is currently no word from Opitz or the Conservatives as to whether or not they will appeal, though Opitz has said he will continue to work hard and represent the people of his riding.
This marks the first time a judge has ruled on a disputed election under Part 20 of the Canada Elections Act, a measure passed in 2000 that opens the way for a court challenge if a candidate believes the result was skewed by corrupt or irregular practices. Lederer found no wrongdoing on the part of either candidate, rather attributing the irregularities to errors by Elections Canada staff.
In his decision, Leder called the case a “conundrum.” “On the one hand, people who are qualified to do so should be allowed to vote and have their vote count….On the other hand, there are requirements of the process which are fundamental. We need to be assured that those who vote are qualified to do so… If we give up these foundations of our electoral system, we risk a loss of confidence in our elections and in our government.”