Burnaby candidate rejected by party insists on 'Conservative' title
Published Friday, October 18, 2019 12:36PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, October 18, 2019 7:13PM PDT
BURNABY, B.C. - The latest twist in what may be the strangest election run of the season has an ousted Conservative candidate insisting she be referred to as the Conservative Party’s nominee, despite the party standing firm on its insistence she's not a member.
Friday morning, Heather Leung's campaign manager, Travis Trost, sent a press release to journalists insisting that "for the sake of accuracy, and to avoid unnecessary confusion, media outlets are being asked on election night to title Ms. Leung as Elections Canada has, Conservative Party Candidate for Burnaby North – Seymour."
But when contacted by CTV News, the Conservative party immediately replied via email that "Ms. Leung is not our candidate. If Ms. Leung is elected she will not sit in the Conservative caucus."
The party also says she's been told she cannot use the party’s name or logo or represent herself as a candidate. On Oct. 4 , the Conservative Party severed all ties with Leung in the wake of the NDP candidate drawing attention to homophobic comments she’d made in recent years.
"Recent media reports have brought to light offensive comments made by Ms. Leung saying 'homosexuals recruit' children, and describing the sexual orientation of the LGBTQ community as 'perverted'. There is no tolerance in the Conservative Party for those types of offensive comments,” the party said at the time.
Nonetheless, two weeks later Leung’s campaign insists that “Ms. Leung’s vote total will be counted along with that of the Conservative Party of Canada and should she win the seat, her victory will be included with the Conservative Party of Canada seat total,” a process Elections Canada confirmed.
But when pressed on whether he’s confusing voters with an affiliation and title that doesn’t reflect party support, Trost said “Should she be elected, it would be the first caucus meeting that would decide her fate and I don't think I'm being misleading in saying that,” later adding that “it’s not simply a case of what the leader says in determining who’s a member of the Conservative caucus.”
Leung's name will appear next to the Conservative party on the ballot since the party ejected her after the deadline had passed to remove her from the paper ballots, so she will continue to appear to be the representative, even though the party insists she’s not.
Elections Canada says it’s not unusual for a candidates’ status to change after the cutoff date, which was Sept. 30 this year.
“That means no candidates after that deadline can decide to run, no one can withdraw and nobody can change their affiliation because we don't really have a mechanism for a candidate to withdraw," explained spokesperson Andrea Marantz.
“On election night, all of the votes will be reported according to how they appear on the ballot, so in this case Ms. Leung's votes will be recorded as votes in the Conservative Party," however, she adds, “It's entirely up to a political party to decide who is a member and who is not."
An issue that needs addressing
Several political scientists contacted by CTV News describe the situation as unprecedented and complicated.
"There's just too much grey area right now and it almost seems like a case of false advertising on behalf of the candidate in terms of her saying that she's a Conservative but the Conservatives no longer endorse her," said University of Victoria assistant professor Kim Speers. "I think it's really important that there's some body that looks at the situations that have arisen in the last several years so that the parties and the candidates and the voters know exactly what the rules are and what to expect."
Speers is unsurprised at the brief response form the Conservative Party, especially when there’s so little time to address the issue.
“Dealing with a situation on a Friday before the Monday, which is election day, is not the ideal time – especially for the Conservatives," she said. "They want to be focussed on getting on the vote and their grander vision, they don't want to be dealing with this situation, which revives these controversial comments."
A rarely-used mechanism
If someone felt that Leung or her campaign were intentionally misleading voters in order to win, they could make a complaint based on Section 91 (1) (b) of the Elections Act, which states: “No person or entity shall, with the intention of affecting the results of an election, make or publish, during the election period…a false statement about the citizenship, place of birth, education, professional qualifications or membership in a group or association of a candidate...”
Marantz says there’s no automatic review, but that the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections would take any voter-driven concerns, saying “the office determines whether there has been a breach of the Canada Elections Act".
When asked about Section 91 of the Elections Act, Trost said: “To my knowledge she hasn't had her membership revoked and she's still a member of the Conservative Party. What I also really want to emphasize at this point is Conservative is next to her name on the ballot. Elections Canada is treating her as a Conservative.”