Hamilton police have launched an investigation into a Progressive Conservative nomination contest clouded with allegations of fraud and ballot-tampering, QP Briefing has learned.
The probe comes in the wake of controversy around previous nomination meetings that caused mass resignations from two PC riding associations and alleged breaches of voting rules. It also arrives following a chorus of PC criticism around the Liberal gas plant scandal and bribery charges related to the Sudbury byelection, both of which will culminate in trials next month.
"I can confirm that there is an investigation that is still currently ongoing," said Hamilton Police Service spokesperson Const. Lorraine Edwards.
Launched in mid-May, the case was handled initially by the fraud unit and has been passed on to the criminal investigations unit, Edwards said.
She did not divulge any targets in the probe, but said police were "investigating the whole scenario."
Last May, two would-be PC candidates for the Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas riding launched internal appeals to the party — and then lawsuits in the courts — following a contested nomination meeting on May 7. Vikram Singh and Jeff Peller alleged that voter fraud and ballot-box stuffing occurred, and called for the results to be overturned.
PC Leader Patrick Brown, who used his veto power to quash the internal appeals and green-light official winner Ben Levitt, declined to comment on the investigation.
Mike Richmond, a lawyer for the party, declined to answer questions, citing attorney-client privilege. Party president Rick Dykstra did not respond to questions from QP Briefing.
No charges have been laid, and none of the allegations has been proved in court.
The case arises in part out of alleged disparities in the nomination vote tallies. The ballot box at the credentials desk, where voters are directed if their ID or membership is challenged, yielded 202 ballots for Levitt and 139 for the three other candidates combined, according to court filings from Singh and Peller. The seven other ballot boxes, alphabetized by last name, contained 426 votes for Levitt and 1,080 votes for the other three candidates in total, with Singh in the lead by 83 votes.
That means Levitt supposedly garnered 45 per cent more than all three candidates combined at the credentials table. His rivals collectively received more than 250 per cent more than Levitt at the other booths.
Singh launched a lawsuit seeking to challenge Levitt's nomination. In a court filing, Dykstra said Brown preferred Levitt over Singh as the candidate and has the right to appoint the candidate of his choice, regardless of the outcome of the nomination meeting, and chose to appoint Levitt in this case.
“If there was going to be a preferred candidate, why did you go through the whole process?” Singh asked in an interview last month. “That’s why it seems so dirty.”
The resulting controversy was the latest in a series of allegation-stained nominations. In June, the PC Newmarket-Aurora association board of directors resigned in protest after supporters of two unsuccessful candidates were supposedly blocked from approaching party members being bused in for the April 8 vote, the Toronto Star reported.
Days earlier, association board members in Ottawa West-Nepean quit their posts following allegations of ballot-stuffing. Former Tory vice-president and policy chair Robert Elliott beat them to the punch, stepping down to protest the May 6 nomination, which saw 28 more ballots cast than voters registered, according to multiple party members who were on hand. That includes former Conservative senator Marjory LeBreton, who said in a statement she’d “never seen anything so blatantly undemocratic.”
More recently, Durham regional councillor Joe Neal challenged the party in court for allegedly blocking his candidacy, but dropped the case after learning Brown wouldn’t offer his imprimatur no matter the outcome, the Star reported.
Brown effectively shut down any internal appeals in early June when he certified all 64 Tory candidates who had been nominated. He also hired auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers to oversee all selection meetings moving forward.
The shutdown prompted Singh, 31, to file a lawsuit seeking an order to set aside the PC's declaration of the 25-year-old Levitt as their candidate for Hamilton West and nominate Singh instead – or at least hold a new nomination meeting.
The case, which returned to court Tuesday only to be deferred, saw an Ontario Superior Court judge scrub a mysterious conversation between Singh, his supporters, and Brown’s campaign chair Walied Soliman from the court record. Dykstra had requested an effective publication ban on the apparently sensitive sit-down, secretly recorded by Singh, immediately after Singh filed his lawsuit on June 13.
In the past, Brown has made political hay out of police investigations into the Liberal government. He also demanded Premier Kathleen Wynne step aside until the resolution of corruption charges against former top Liberal staffer Pat Sorbara and Grit fundraiser Gerry Lougheed Jr. regarding an alleged bribery scandal around the 2015 Sudbury byelection. That trial is scheduled to start Sept. 7.
Brown has also attacked the governing party over criminal charges against David Livingston and Laura Miller — former premier Dalton McGuinty's chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, respectively — in connection with allegedly deleted documents tied to two cancelled gas plants. That trial is slated to begin Sept. 11.