Elections Ontario finds ‘apparent contravention’ of election rules by former Liberal candidate

An Elections Ontario polling station for Toronto-Danforth held at Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre is pictured on election day, Toronto, Thursday, June 2, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Rachel Verbin

A former Ontario Liberal Party candidate may have breached campaign rules during the recent provincial election, Elections Ontario says.

In a letter to the Ontario NDP, the independent office said an investigation determined “there has been an apparent contravention” of the Elections Act by the former Liberal candidate for Chatham-Kent-Leamington.

Audrey Festeryga, who was drafted by the Liberals to contest the seat after the party was forced to drop a candidate, withdrew from the race a week before the election took place.

Her candidacy was called into question by the NDP during the campaign. The party alleged that she was fraudulently registered with signatures gathered in support of the dropped candidate.

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At the time, then-Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca refused to comment on the validity of the fraud accusations but instead accused the NDP of “attacking” Festeryga, which he said drove her to withdraw from the race.

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When she withdrew, Festeryga said she had entered the race because she believed in her local community.

“I simply cannot allow any further mudslinging to deflect from the issues of importance: affordability, safety and security, and the environment,” she said.

“Due to the NDP’s relentless personal attacks, I have made the difficult decision to withdraw as the Liberal candidate for Chatham-Kent-Leamington, in order to protect my family and my name.”

In its letter to the Ontario NDP, Elections Ontario said it had reported the matter to the Ministry of the Attorney General.

“Once the Chief Electoral Officer reports an apparent contravention, it may be investigated by a police service and, with the consent of the Chief Electoral Officer, prosecuted by the Crown,” the letter said.

Section 95 of the Elections Act — which is the portion Elections Ontario believes may have been violated — deals with providing “false or misleading information to a returning officer.”

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“No credible political party would stand behind behaviour that violates Ontario’s election laws,” provincial director for the Ontario NDP Lucy Watson said. “We thank Elections Ontario for their work on this concern.”

The Ontario Liberal Party said it was aware of the communication from Elections Ontario and would not comment further while the matter was with the attorney general.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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