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B.C. Liberal asks court to delay leadership result over membership concern

VICTORIA — A member of the B.C. Liberal party has filed a petition asking a judge to delay the results of Saturday's leadership vote for 15 days. The petition filed in B.C.
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VICTORIA — A member of the B.C. Liberal party has filed a petition asking a judge to delay the results of Saturday's leadership vote for 15 days.

The petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court by Vikram Bajwa outlines concerns about the completeness of the party's recent audit of new members who were signed up during the leadership contest.

A hearing is scheduled for Friday in Vancouver.

Bajwa's petition asks the court to delay announcing the winner of the leadership vote for 15 days in order for the party to provide more details about the audit results and process. 

Seven candidates are vying to replace former Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, who resigned shortly after the October 2020 election when the New Democrats won a majority government. The candidates are legislature members Michael Lee, Ellis Ross and Renee Merrifield; business leaders Gavin Dew, Val Litwin and Stan Sipos; and Kevin Falcon, a former cabinet minister.

Bajwa's petition seeks several orders by the court on top of the delay, including a declaration that the party's membership audit is incomplete and to order the party to reveal its conclusions on whether any co-ordinated voter fraud took place in the leadership race.  

Liberal spokesman David Wasyluk said the party will be in court Friday to respond to the petition.

"The party believes that the Leadership Election Organizing Committee, the party, and the chief returning officer have taken reasonable steps to determine voter eligibility by reviewing and auditing party memberships," he said in a statement.

"The party is confident in that review process."

He said last week the process of confirming the membership information of 1,423 members was still underway, while 1,140 membership applications were found not to be in compliance with party membership rules and procedures.

Colin Hansen, co-chairman of the leadership election committee, said last month the party gained more than 20,000 new members during the leadership campaign, increasing its membership total to about 43,000 members.

Concerns about new party memberships were raised by several leadership candidates during the campaign.

Candidate Val Litwin said he sent a letter to the party last December outlining concerns after his campaign reviewed data that included people giving an address on their membership applications in areas where there are no homes.

Representatives of the leadership campaigns for candidates Lee and Dew confirmed they sent a joint letter about membership concerns to the party last month. 

The letter said a preliminary analysis "suggests a significant portion of the membership should be flagged for audit in the range of 33 per cent to 50 per cent." 

Dew said if elected leader, he would introduce legislation to have Elections BC, the independent office that runs provincial elections, administer leadership contests for all political parties. 

Voting for the new Liberal leader runs Thursday until Saturday, online and by telephone. Wasyluk said the petition does not affect the voting process.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2022.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press