By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — A court challenge aimed at unseating Heather Stefanson as Manitoba Progressive Conservative leader and premier got underway Thursday.
Shelly Glover, who finished a close second to Stefanson in last weekend’s leadership race with 49 per cent of the ballots, is asking Court of Queen’s Bench to quash the results and order a new vote.
One of the first issues to be worked out is whether the court has jurisdiction over an internal political party matter. Constitutional experts have said courts generally tend not to interfere.
“Putting it plainly, is this a matter which the Court of Queen’s Bench has jurisdiction to determine or hear?” Justice James Edmond said.
“I can tell you that my view at this moment is that it is, but I certainly don’t plan to prejudge that issue until I see full briefs from the parties on that issue.”
Lawyers for both sides are to return to court Nov. 19 for a hearing on the question.
Another item to be worked out, Edmond said, is whether Glover had an alternative to court action, such as an appeal under Tory leadership rules.
Glover complained throughout the campaign that many party members did not receive ballots in the mail in time to vote, but that is not part of her legal action.
Her case focuses on two complaints. One is that party officials gave her team a spreadsheet — after the deadline for mail-in votes — that showed just over 16,000 ballots were to be counted. The final results announced Saturday had an extra 501 votes, Glover said in an affidavit.
Secondly, Glover’s court filings allege that at one point unsealed ballot boxes were moved out of the room where votes were being counted and into an adjacent room.
The Progressive Conservative party has denied any unfairness. In a statement earlier this week, the party said ballots were at all times under the control of an independent security firm or independent auditors. Each campaign had scrutineers on hand as well, the party said.
The judge called Glover’s allegations “somewhat vague,” but agreed to have the matter heard quicker than usual.
“It seems to me this is a matter of public interest, and the people of Manitoba need an answer,” Edmond said.
Stefanson, a former cabinet minister and 20-year legislature member, was sworn in as premier Tuesday. She is to lay out her agenda in a throne speech when the legislature reconvenes Nov. 23.