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City refuses to release review of botched Catholic trustee election

Clerk's office claims a court challenge of the controverted election will have to be resolved first
20210513 city hall ms
Cambridge City Hall. CambridgeToday photo

The city is denying access to an external consultant's review of last fall's botched Waterloo Catholic District School Board trustee election, claiming a court challenge will have to be resolved first.

Nate Whalen filed a motion for an independent judicial review of the municipal election in January with the Ontario Superior Court.

In it, the failed Ward 3 candidate questions the integrity of the election in which he says 31 alleged "irregularities" occurred during and in the lead up to the Oct. 24 vote.

They include a software glitch that temporarily prevented electors from casting online ballots, a lack of polling station scrutineers and the nomination process itself, which rejected a candidate for not having enough endorsement signatures despite a witness claim to the contrary.

The issues cited in Whalen's court challenge go well beyond the scope of what happened with the WCDSB trustee election in which an error on the ballot forced the City of Cambridge to declare "an emergency under the Elections Act" two days before Cambridge voters went to the polls.

That was when clerk Danielle Manton discovered the names of two candidates had been left off the ballot. 

Approximately 1,700 ballots had been cast before the emergency declaration.

The city then held a second Catholic trustee election Nov. 25 in which only 5.7 per cent of eligible Cambridge voters cast a ballot.

Between the ballot blunder and the second election, the city hired retired regional clerk Kris Fletcher to lead an independent review of what led to the error.

“Whenever an error is made in our organization, it is important for us to look into ‘how and why’ so that we can ensure improvements towards future processes,” said Allison Jones, supervisor of Communications at the City of Cambridge, at the time. 

“The independent review will help us assess how to approach things going forward. A report, including costs will be prepared once the review has been completed,” she added.

Costs associated with the municipal election, the resumption of the WCDSB election, and review are funded from the Election Reserve Fund, the city said.

A report on the elections, including costs, was expected to be completed by the end of last year but it was never tabled at council.

Whalen filed his motion on Jan. 23.

In an emailed response to CambridgeToday, Manton said Whalen's court challenge is preventing the city from releasing Fletcher's review of the trustee election.

"As you are aware, the City has received an application for a controverted election," Manton wrote. "As this matter is currently before the court, the Clerk’s 2022 Election Summary and Review will not come before Council until the judicial process takes its course."

Whalen, however, says that's not an adequate excuse for not releasing a consultant's review that was paid for with taxpayer money.

"There is nothing precluding the city from releasing their report prior to the court case being resolved, other than for reputational purposes," Whalen said in an email.

"In fact, my application to the Superior Court of Justice specifically excludes the postponed Catholic District School Board race and instead focuses on the issues related to the positions elected October 24, 2022.

"In my opinion, their intended scope and mine don’t quite overlap enough for the report not to be released."

Whalen said his case has yet to be adjudicated and likely won't be until September.

"The city is trying to cover-up further malfeasance by not releasing election records, which is required by law," he said. "I’m challenging them on this and have asked the court to compel their release."

Whalen is also challenging the constitutionality of the municipal election finance rules because they state all contributions and expenses paid toward his controverted election case must be resolved by June 30, making it technically illegal for him to continue pursuing his case against the city since he may be subject to a $25,000 fine, imprisonment, or be ineligible to run again.

"I’m saying that this infringes on my charter rights and just doesn’t make sense." 

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Doug Coxson

About the Author: Doug Coxson

Doug has been a reporter and editor for 25 years, working mainly in Waterloo region and Guelph
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