Opitz remains MP in hotly contested Ontario riding following SCC ruling
Published Thursday, October 25, 2012 8:59AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 25, 2012 6:18PM EDT
Conservative MP Ted Opitz held onto his Toronto-area seat Thursday after the country's top court ruled in his favour over voting irregularities in the last federal election.
In a split 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the MP’s appeal of an earlier Ontario court ruling that found the results of the May 2011 election in Etobicoke Centre should be overturned, and a byelection called.
"Obviously they took some time in weighing the facts and all the considerations, and the court today validated what our argument was all along, which is the enfranchisment of voters is the paramount thing in any election," Opitz told CTV in his first interview following the decision.
The ruling triggered a round of applause from Opitz' fellow MPs when he arrived in the House of Commons Thursday, and a congratulatory tweet was sent out by Andrew MacDougall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief spokesperson. "Thrilled to hear that Ted Opitz will continue his good work as MP for the people of Etobicoke Centre," he wrote.
At the centre of the challenge was a number of procedural irregularities found following the election, when Opitz ousted Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the Liberal incumbent, by a margin of just 26 votes.
Wrzesnewskyj challenged the outcome, and ultimately 79 ballots were called into question by Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Lederer. Opitz had appealed that decision directly to the Supreme Court over the summer.
Speaking on Power Play, Wrzesnewskyj said he was not surprised by the ruling because “right from the get-go I knew that the odds were stacked against me.”
“What I do know is that the next federal election will be run very differently, that means democracy wins, that means all Canadian wins,” he added. “We all won.”
He also said the money he invested in the legal battle – roughly $300,000 -- was “absolutely” worth it.
“Sometimes people forget that our freedom didn’t just fall from the sky, it came at a cost. In a couple of weeks we will remember those that paid the ultimate price. So in comparative terms it’s not a lot to pay for our freedom, for our democratic rights,” he said.
In their ruling, the Supreme Court justices found 59 of the rejected votes should have been allowed to stand. Because the remaining ballots were fewer than the 26 that would be needed the change the outcome, the original result was still valid.
The decision marks the first time the Supreme Court has weighed in on the validity of an election result in a federal riding.
Three Supreme Court justices disagreed with the majority, including the Chief Supreme Court Justice, Beverley McLachlin.
Mercedes Stephenson told CTV News Channel the court found that voting irregularities are an unavoidable part of elections, and that there was no evidence anyone had voted illegally or committed fraud.
Immediately after the news broke, Opitz issued a statement, thanking the court for its decision.
"As the court decision confirmed, a fair election took place, the result was clear, was then confirmed on a recount and the result has now been endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada," he said. "52,000 people in Etobicoke Centre followed the rules, cast their ballots and today had their democratic decision upheld."
Most of the irregularities cited by the lower court had to do with procedural gaffes by officials working on election day. Of the 79 votes rejected, 44 were cast by people who were legitimate voters listed on the national voters’ list, though they may not have lived in the riding when their ballots were cast. In other cases, it was found that paperwork was improperly filled out for voters who needed someone to vouch for their identity, or those who were left off the voter list.
"Let's be clear: this isn't about robocalls or electoral fraud or anything like that,” said CTV's parliamentary correspondent Roger Smith. “It's more procedural errors, record-keeping, how people registered to vote when they weren't on the list, were the records kept properly … that kind of thing."
There is no suggestion that either candidate did anything wrong on election day or during the campaign leading up to it.