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This article was published 4/11/2021 (288 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Just days after being sworn in as premier, Heather Stefanson faces the prospect of being dragged into a court challenge launched by her rival for the Progressive Conservative party leadership, who contends Saturday's vote should be quashed and a new one ordered.
Although she’s not named in Shelly Glover's lawsuit, Stefanson could appear at a Court of Queen's Bench hearing on Nov. 19, her lawyer said Thursday.
"She's obviously an interested and affected party, which is why I'm here," Jonathan Kroft told the court remotely Thursday, as Glover’s case had its first court appearance.
Stefanson's legal team will advise the court by Nov. 15 whether or not she’ll seek to be an intervenor or respondent to Glover's application to the court. It alleges there were "irregularities" in the election that made Stefanson party leader, and thereby premier. Glover's legal team wants the court to declare the results of Saturday's close race — in which the margin was 51 per cent to 49 per cent — invalid.
On Thursday, Justice Jim Edmond ordered that the matter be heard as soon as possible.
"This is a matter of public interest and the people of Manitoba need an answer," Edmond said in court, where only he, the court clerk and members of the media were present. Lawyers for Glover, Stefanson and the PC Party of Manitoba, which is named in the court action, appeared remotely.
Stefanson made Manitoba history Tuesday when she became the first woman sworn in as premier.
Glover’s legal team filed court affidavits that state the number of certified ballots determined to have been received by the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba after last Friday’s deadline was less than the total number of ballots counted Saturday that resulted in Stefanson's victory.
The application states the number of certified votes received from party members was 16,045 — 501 fewer ballots than the 16,546 the party said were cast when it announced the results Saturday.
Glover's affidavit refers to a spreadsheet that both campaigns saw at 12:27 a.m. on the day the ballots were counted. It showed the vote total would be 16,045 votes. Her lawyer, Dave Hill, told court that the spreadsheet is 273 pages long so it wasn't submitted with its application. Hill told the Free Press the spreadsheet is stored electronically and will be presented to the court on Nov. 19.
Stefanson was declared the winner with 8,405 votes to Glover’s 8,042. The party said 17 ballots were disputed and 82 were spoiled.
"I just couldn’t believe it," Glover, a former Winnipeg police sergeant and federal Conservative cabinet minister, told the Free Press Tuesday. "It doesn’t add up. Where did they get those extra 501 votes?"
The province made a mistake when Stefanson became Manitoba's 24th premier, she said.
"(The party) announced the wrong winner. I should’ve been the premier-designate."
Kroft made a point of telling court that Stefanson will remain premier, no matter what it decides.
"The law seems perfectly clear that the appointment of a premier is a prerogative of the lieutenant-governor," Kroft said. "Ms. Stefanson was appointed premier... This court has, certainly, no constitutional jurisdiction to review the decision of the Crown. By virtue of the Canadian and Manitoban constitutions, Ms. Stefanson will remain premier until she dies, becomes unable to serve, resigns or loses the confidence of the house."
Hill told court the application seeks to have the results of the election quashed.
"We're not suing a premier. We're not suing the lieutenant-governor. She had a job to do and did her job," Hill said.
"What is sought is an order quashing the result of the leadership election," said Justice Edmond. The Nov. 19 hearing will determine if the Court of Queen's Bench has jurisdiction to hear the case and who should be involved.
Edmond said, at this time, he thinks it is a case for the court to decide.
"But I certainly don't plan to prejudge that issue until I see full briefs from the parties on that issue."
The standard for deciding whether it's a matter of judicial review is reasonableness, he said. It's not clear if Glover exhausted all her remedies before going to court, including taking the matter up with the PC party and if it addressed it in a timely manner, Edmond said, noting he expects to see affidavits from the PC Party of Manitoba.
"This isn't a complicated issue. It seems to me the allegations need to be addressed, though," he said.
Both sides will present their evidence on Nov. 19 so a decision can be made.
"If the allegations are that there are some irregularities... I expect the (PC party) would have answers to some of those alleged irregularities," the judge said.
The PC party declined to comment Thursday.
"This matter remains before the court," party spokesman Keith Stewart said in an email. "The party is preparing a response to Ms. Glover’s application and will present it in court on the timelines laid out by the judge."
Although political party elections aren't overseen by Elections Manitoba, which can order a judicial recount, the court could treat this case like a judicial recount, Edmond said..
"I've had experience dealing with those in the past, and they're usually conducted very quickly, and there are a lot of good reasons for that. The parties need to know who is the proper elected official and, where it's close — and this one, I think, would fall into the category of close contests — the results are reviewed in court in a transparent fashion. That's usually conducted within a week or two, at the latest, of the actual election being held," he said.
Stefanson's lawyer said she only learned some of the details of Glover's complaint on Monday and hasn't had time to get advice from her legal counsel. If the judge was considering something like a judicial recount, then normally the other candidate is present, Kroft said, adding he wasn't sure what Stefanson will decide to do.
"She'll have to make that determination."
No one from the premier's office responded to a request for comment Thursday.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.