Liberal MP Frank Valeriote is fighting efforts by another local candidate to overturn the results of the last federal election in his riding of Guelph.
Marijuana Party candidate Brother Kornelis Klevering, a missionary of the Church of the Universe, recently asked the Federal Court to annul the results of the May 2, 2011, Guelph vote citing irregularities, fraud, or corrupt or illegal practices -- specifically, the 6,700 illegal robocalls currently under investigation.
Klevering told The Huffington Post Canada he returned May 28 from a remote island in southern Thailand where he spent the winter, and was shocked to discover the extent of the fraudulent calls. He believes the election process in Guelph was “neither free nor fair” and that thousands of robocalls misdirecting voters to non-extent polls dissuaded many from casting their ballots.
The man who won the race, Valeriote, however, says a new byelection is completely unnecessary.
“Notwithstanding the efforts to suppress, the voters have already spoken,” Valeriote told HuffPost Canada Saturday, the day after his lawyer informed Klevering they would be fighting his application.
“Of course, I’m going to protect the seat. Absolutely,” Valeriote said. “Why wouldn’t I fight this? Why would we put Guelph through an entire other costly election when the voters have already spoken?”
Valeriote won the riding last year by 6,236 votes. The Conservative candidate Marty Burke was second, with the NDP a distant third. ‘Radical Marijuana’ came in sixth with 170 votes.
Klevering said he wasn’t surprised the Liberal candidate was fighting to save his seat: “He has the most to lose, I mean, he was elected and he likes to maintain his position. I could understand why he would not want to run again in a riding where he feels he has won.”
Valeriote had repeatedly spoken out against “American voter-suppression tactics” but given the opportunity to put money where his mouth is, the Liberal MP was coming out against it, Klevering said. “He comes out against any effort to clean the slate and, you know, take a step forward on behalf of democracy."
Although the Marijuana Party candidate writes in his application that he believes “extensive and widespread fraudulent activity skewed and corrupted the final electoral results for the Marijuana Party of Canada,” he told HuffPost Canada he knows he’s unlikely to win the seat if a new byelection is called and the results are likely to remain unchanged.
“Off the top of my head I would say no because Frank Valeriote won by a fairly large margin, five or six thousand, but that is not the issue here. The issue is a question of should these fraudulent robocalls be allowed in a democratic society," Klevering said. "If nothing gets done about it, it gets shoved under the carpet and they may reappear in the next federal election,” he said, adding that he'd already spent $1,000 of his own money to fight for this principle in court.
Valeriote, however, believes the robocalls -- which have been tied to an IP address also used by a member of Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke’s team -- were not successful at suppressing the vote.
It was designed to keep Liberal, Green and NDP voters at home but it didn’t work, Valeriote said.
It would also be unfair to voters in Guelph to subject them to the fourth federal election in four years, Valeriote said, pointing out that residents in his riding had been asked to cast ballots in a byelection in 2008, only 35 days before another federal election was called and then again in 2011.
“The particular irregularity of the vote did not affect the result of the vote the way it did in Nipissing-Timiskaming, where Mr. (Anthony) Rota lost by only 17 votes or something like that,” Valeriote added. (Rota lost by 18 votes.)
Indeed, the Council of Canadians has brought forward a federal application to overturn the results of the last election in seven ridings: Don Valley East, Elmwood-Transcona, Nipissing-Timiskaming, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Vancouver Island North, Winnipeg South Centre and Yukon. Guelph is not on their list because Valeriote’s margin was so large the Council felt the robocalls did not have an effect on the outcome of the race.
The Federal Court is expected to rule any day now as to whether or not the Council’s application can go ahead. The Conservative Party challenged their standing arguing the Council waited too long, 11 months, after the vote -- much longer than the 30 days set out in the Canada Elections Act for an appeal.
The Council, however, argued it only learned about the extent of the fraudulent calls in late February and acted as soon as it became aware of the scope of the irregularities through the national media.
In his application, Klevering makes similar points. He says he knew “next to nothing about the extent of the robo-fraud” before he left for Thailand in October. And it wasn’t until March that he received emails informing him of the ongoing investigation but he didn’t have the resources or the electronic means to follow developments from his isolated post in Thailand. He believes his application should be accepted because he filed it within the 30 days of his arrival back in Canada.
Valeriote, however, doesn’t buy Klevering’s assertions.
“I’m struggling with the fact that Kornelis didn’t bring this application sooner. He didn’t leave for his remote island immediately after the election, he was aware of these irregularities as was everyone else in Guelph, not just the day of but many days after the election -- they were all reported in our local press and in fact in some of the national press,” he said.
The Liberal MP believes the Council of Canadians's effort to overthrow the results of the last election in seven ridings is legitimate because it acted when the nation became alerted to the irregularities in February or March of this year, but Kornelis waited until the end of June and "that is his problem.”
If the Federal Court sides with the Council, the Conservatives have put forward another motion to dismiss based on the grounds that the group is anti-Harper and their claim frivolous. If the Council survives that motion, a hearing is expected in late September or October.
The Conservative Party ignored requests to provide its stance on Klevering's application which names Burke as a respondent.