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Liberals’ contorted voting process could raise questions about validity

By JOHN TWIGG

For TheCommentary.ca

There are lots of levels and grounds on which the B.C. Liberal Party’s latest leadership contest could be questioned, including that Christy Clark could have won mainly because of strategy around the regional weighting system adopted shortly before the vote.

Results of the preferential votes announced by the party gave only the total points earned by each candidate and the percentages they were but the actual individual votes were not revealed and perhaps never will be, though intriguingly the Vancouver Sun has reported that the Liberals’ website on Saturday briefly posted but quickly removed what appeared to be the actual votes.

The system gave 100 points to each of the province’s 85 constituency organizations, so that a small membership in an NDP-held riding like say North Coast was equal to the points given to large ridings like say in the Surrey area where there reportedly were massive signups by at least three of the campaigns (Falcon, Clark and de Jong) in or around Sikh temples.

Thus 60 hypothetical votes for Clark out of 100 total votes in North Coast would give her campaign 60 points, and 30 votes for Kevin Falcon would give him 30 points, etc. And meanwhile in a big Surrey riding with about 3,000 votes they would need 1,800 votes to get the same 60 points.

That math comes into play when we notice that on the final tally there were 4,420 points for Clark and 4,080 points for Falcon, which translates to 52 % for Clark and 48 % for Falcon – which is a very close result and in some situations would be enough to call for a recount. Interestingly the briefly-posted votes were 28,411 for Clark to 26,119 for Falcon – the same percentage as the points.

But what – out of curiosity – were the actual vote totals round by round? It’s possible that there were up to 60,000 votes cast in the early rounds because members were required to vote for at least two choices but on the final vote that shrunk to “only” about 54,500 votes. So did Christy win partly because her strategists coached other supporters to not give any second or third-place preferences to Falcon?

It was apparent that Falcon’s votes came mainly in large urban Liberal ridings, but Clark rolled up the points in small rural and NDP ones. Until the party confirms otherwise it’s still possible to wonder whether Clark won on points but had fewer raw votes! Note that shortly before the vote she and her team were telling the media that they had about 42% of the first-ballot votes and maybe that was about what she won with too.

That’s even more troubling when one notes that some 95,000 people apparently were entitled to vote but only 62.4 % did so. The party spin merchants pointed out that that turnout still was above the 51% in the 2009 election and 58% in 2005 but that is misleading because the Liberal memberships were recruited in a hot and hard-fought battle in which urgency was of some importance – so why did more than one-third of those ostensibly keen new members simply not participate? Were there massive disqualifications of recent fraudulent sign-ups??

That’s an even bigger question when we look at the schmozzle involving PIN numbers, with hundreds and probably multi thousands simply not arriving on time in the mail which required the party and their private-sector contractor to mount a hasty backup phone-in service – so where and why were those PIN numbers not delivered? Was there hanky-panky somewhere, or was it merely incompetence? If those missing 30,000 votes had been cast would the outcome have been different?

But it goes beyond PINs because we also heard examples of people being signed up and issued PINs without their consent, as happened to journalist Simi Sara’s father and perhaps others, the media made much of a cat being signed up (apparently a dirty trick against the Falcon campaign done by George Abbott’s camp without his knowledge), a restaurant staff signing up en masse using the restaurant’s address, and even a hockey team was briefly signed up for Falcon without the players’ knowledge.

If those kinds of dirty tricks sound familiar they should because they’re quite similar to the tactics used by Gordon Campbell’s backers when they usurped the B.C. Liberal Party leadership away from Gordon Wilson in 1993, as Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer reported well a few weeks ago, such as lawyer and real estate offices set up as en-masse phone-in banks for transferred PIN votes, plus there were hundreds of bused-in voters who couldn’t speak English. And some of the same folks did similar stunts when Ujjal Dosanjh usurped the NDP leadership away from Premier Glen Clark in the late 1990s! (In that case numerous B.C. Liberals joined the NDP just so they could support an Indo-Canadian for Premier, and some dead people were registered and voted too.)

They also echo of the dirty tricks used to narrowly elect Liberal “stallion” Kash Heed in Vancouver-Fraserview in 2009 including unreported expenditures for falsely slanderous and malicious mailings of Chinese-language leaflets impugning the NDP and its candidate Gabriel Yiu, which are now the subject of renewed police investigations and could cause Heed, a former high-profile cop, to not only lose his seat but maybe also face criminal charges.

In the Liberals’ latest contest there also were duelling tailored polls from unusual sources, allegations of money sent in from the U.S.A. by environmental activists and just generally lots of evidence to raise questions about the integrity of the process, such as the widespread use of “membership brokers” and the somewhat-railroaded adoption of the weighted voting system.

Was the Liberal leadership contest in 2011 fixed in much the same way as the 1993 contest was fixed? We can’t say for sure but the evidence is – as the arson investigations say: “suspicious”.

Some of the evidence for that is circumstantial, such as a few Indo-Canadians trying to stay close behind Clark as she entered the Liberals’ victory room in downtown Vancouver on Saturday night, notably two wearing bright red turbans in the same hue of red as the federal Liberal Party – as if they thought they deserved to be seen as the king-makers. And then sure enough during her victory speech Clark gave a special nod to them by saying a few words in one of the East Indian languages and making a sort of praying gesture – indicating she was well aware that she owed her victory at least in part to South Asian mass signups.

Will Kash Heed re-emerge in Clark’s reformist cabinet? Not likely, but you can bet she’ll include some nod to South Asian voters, possibly related to her promise to undertake a trade mission to India within six months.


John Twigg (www.johntwigg.com [1]) is an independent journalist, former press secretary to premier Dave Barrett and former interim leader of the BC Refederation Party.