Court case should be resolved this year
Julie Mitchell — File photo
It's been well over a year since the general election, but technically, one district is still in dispute.
Basically, everyone involved is hoping that later this year, a Newfoundland and Labrador judge will finally put to rest who is the rightful MHA for the district of Burin-Placentia West.
Education Minister Clyde Jackman won his seat in that district by 40 votes, but NDP candidate Julie Mitchell almost immediately challenged that.
Mitchell argues the province's system for special ballots is out of step with the rest of the country, and unconstitutional. She also said there were some issues with specific ballots, which should be deemed ineligible.
For most of the past year, the case has been stuck in legal limbo while the judge ruled on a narrow question of whether Mitchell could challenge the election results as a candidate, as a private citizen or both.
In his decision issued in late December, Justice Robert Hall forcefully dismissed Jackman's argument that Mitchell could not challenge the election results as both a candidate and as a private citizen.
"This makes no sense to me," Hall wrote at one point. Later in the decision he said that aspects of Jackman's legal argument "denigrates Mitchell's integrity."
He added, "Such arguments have no place in a proceeding such as this, where issues of constitutional importance have been put in play."
New Democrat lawyer Geoff Budden said he's hoping, now that the preliminary legal issue has been settled, they can get into the meat of the case later this spring, and resolve the whole thing this year.
"I presume that everybody realizes that the legislation and common sense suggests that this be moved through as fast as reasonably can be done," he said. "Our argument, obviously, is that there were flaws in the election that would require that the result be set aside."
If the NDP wins the case, there could be a byelection to sort out who the rightful MHA is.
The core of the NDP argument is that Newfoundland and Labrador election law allows for special ballot voting up to four weeks before "the writ" which establishes the formal rules of election campaigning, and governs how candidates fundraise and spend money.
The NDP is arguing that the writ provides for a level playing field for candidates, and allowing voting before then creates an unfair advantage for the incumbent candidate - in this case, Jackman.
But Jackman said that as far as he's concerned, everybody knew the rules going into the election, and everybody played by those rules. He said that now that the election is over and they lost, the NDP is challenging it.
"Quite simply, I don't see where we did anything wrong," Jackman said. "We did things within the elections act, within the rules, within the regulations, and I believed then and I still believe that the people exercised their rights."
While his district has technically been in dispute for the past year, Jackman said it hasn't really affected him.
"We'll just let the process take its course," he said. "My job as I see it is to represent the people of this district and I'll do it to the best of my ability."
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