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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

As the election drew to a close, a Langford campaign scrambled for answers on election rules

A mire of conflicting jurisdictions and confusing answers from authorities point to a gap in elections law enforcement

By Shannon Waters
October 27, 2022
City Hall
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

As the election drew to a close, a Langford campaign scrambled for answers on election rules

A mire of conflicting jurisdictions and confusing answers from authorities point to a gap in elections law enforcement

By Shannon Waters
Oct 27, 2022
Langford City Hall. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Langford City Hall. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
City Hall
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

As the election drew to a close, a Langford campaign scrambled for answers on election rules

A mire of conflicting jurisdictions and confusing answers from authorities point to a gap in elections law enforcement

By Shannon Waters
October 27, 2022
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As the election drew to a close, a Langford campaign scrambled for answers on election rules
Langford City Hall. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

As new councils come together across Greater Victoria, questions remain about the elections that put them there. A maze of authorities and jurisdictions make it hard to understand how rule violations are meant to be reported and enforced—and in Langford, one campaign’s complaints appear destined to never be investigated at all. 

When Capital Daily first began looking into concerns raised by the Langford Now campaign about communications from the city’s chief electoral officer, Elections BC seemed like the logical place to start. But that independent elections office only oversees, specifically, the financial aspects of local elections, such as campaign donations and spending on election advertising. It often refers other complaints to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

The ministry, however, does not investigate complaints. That usually falls to the chief electoral officer for a municipality, who is appointed by the city for each election.

But what happens if the concern is about the chief electoral officer themselves? 

In that case, according to the ministry, it’s up to the police and the courts to sort out. 

It’s “a frustrating conundrum,” says Corrina Craig, an authorized principal official for the Langford Now campaign, who spent weeks trying to get someone in authority to look into her campaign’s concerns around this year’s municipal election.

“There doesn't seem to be one particular place where the buck stops and the legislation doesn't seem to have any teeth,” Craig told Capital Daily.

Ticking clock

Craig and Langford Now began having misgivings about Langford’s chief electoral officer, Marie Watmough, in the summer. 

Candidate Mary Wagner received an email in August from Watmough, warning that Wagner may have violated rules against vote-buying by offering free freezies and bottled water during a campaign event in a park. That warning lacked the crucial context that vote-buying only occurs when goods or services are offered to voters “in exchange for their vote,” as stated in the Candidate’s Guide to Local Elections in BC published by the provincial government.

Capital Daily contacted Watmough by phone while reporting on the issue. Watmough requested questions in writing, and then did not respond to subsequent emails.

Tensions between the Langford Now campaign and Watmough grew in early October and came to a head as the election neared. Craig contacted Watmough on Oct. 6 with concerns about Cherish at Central Park, a long-term-care facility that also served as one of the city’s three special voting places during this year’s election. 

Micky Fleming, president and CEO of the company that owns and operates Cherish at Central Park, is also the chief financial agent for Community First—the slate headed by incumbent Langford Mayor Stew Young, who the Langford Now slate was running against.

Craig complained that Langford Now candidates were not allowed to place signs on the Cherish property and that the campaign was barred from leaving campaign materials at the facility or visiting its residents, which Craig interpreted as a violation of local election laws. Signs for Community First candidates, meanwhile, were allowed on the Cherish property.

Watmough dismissed Craig’s concerns, concluding the law is “not clear” about whether facilities like Cherish are covered by the rules Craig raised.

“It is also my understanding that no candidates have been permitted to enter the premises, campaign or distribute elections material onsite,” Watmough wrote in an Oct. 11 email to Craig. “If you have any information to the contrary, please advise.”

Watmough also concluded that, as the facility is on private property, the owner “can decide who places signs on their property.” 

Fleming told Capital Daily Cherish is a retirement residence and has “a strong no solicitation policy.” She also confirmed that Langford Now was not allowed to place signs at the facility.

Photos for the Community Now candidates on Cherish property. Photo: Submitted

“I find them offensive and so no, I most definitely would not allow their signs on my property,” Fleming said, adding that she complained about Langford Now’s conduct to the city, the ministry and Elections BC.

With the election fast approaching, Craig then contacted the Westshore RCMP. Her initial complaint—about Cherish banning most campaign signs and barring access—was referred back to Watmough. During a follow-up on Oct. 11, Craig also told the investigating officer about Fleming’s role as the financial agent for Community First.

Westshore RCMP confirmed they received Craig’s complaints and attempted to contact Langford’s electoral office for clarification on the law; a major question was around whether Cherish is a private facility (in which case, campaigning could be banned) or a strata (in which case it couldn’t be banned). Media relations officer Cpl. Nancy Saggar told Capital Daily there was no immediate response.

“Without expert input from their office, police were unable to determine if Cherish fell under a private health care facility rule or if their strata building made them public,” Saggar said. “The pre-elections taking place the very next day left very little time to investigate this matter.”

On Oct. 12, special voting took place at Cherish and two other long-term care facilities—both of which are publicly owned and operated. Across all three facilities, mayor-elect Scott Goodmanson—who won the majority of votes in every other physical voting location—received eight votes. Young received 51.

Shaken faith

Craig had also flagged the issue to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs on Oct. 11, but she did not receive a response until the following day.

“The Ministry does not have an investigative role or oversee the local elections of individual communities, including the conduct of elections officials,” Braden O’Neill, a program analyst with the ministry, told Craig in an email. “If you believe the local government has failed to comply with provincial legislation, you may wish to seek legal counsel to determine the best course of action.”

O’Neill also suggested checking the BC Ombudsperson’s website to see if they might consider the complaint. Neither option—hiring a lawyer or wading through a long complaint process—would help with the candidates’ inability to campaign at the Cherish facility prior to the start of voting.

“It’s really shaken our faith in the democratic process,” Craig said of the experience.

When the results rolled in on election night, Young was defeated by Goodmanson and all Langford Now candidates were elected along with incumbent councillor Lillian Szpak. But the questions raised during the campaign have not been resolved.

In the wake of the election, Capital Daily asked the ministry to clarify how complaints about election issues are handled during the campaign period.

“There are different processes in place depending on the nature of the complaint,” the ministry said in a statement.

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Article Author's Profile Picture
Shannon Waters
Municipal affairs reporter
[email protected]

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As the election drew to a close, a Langford campaign scrambled for answers on election rules
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