Ontario PCs face lawsuit over election of party president

The husband of one of Premier Doug Ford’s MPPs is suing the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, claiming that officials rigged the election for party president, deliberately breaking their own rules to thwart his candidacy.

Jim Karahalios filed a lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court this week, alleging that the party allowed “ballot stuffing” that tipped the November 2018 election in favour of his sole opponent and the eventual winner, Brian Patterson.

The party president is an elected, volunteer position that leads governance and operations for the Ontario PCs.  Karahalios’ wife Belinda is the PC MPP for Cambridge.

The lawsuit alleges that two senior Ford advisors told Karahalios last year that the premier’s office wanted Patterson to become the party president.

The lawsuit alleges the number of ballots cast in the election during the party’s convention in Toronto exceeded the number of eligible voters by at least 115. The lawsuit says Patterson won the election by a margin of just 56 votes.

Lawyers for Karahalios argue party officials took steps to undermine his campaign and favour that of his opponent.

“The party and its agents deliberately and materially breached the rules in order to prevent Karahalios from winning the election,” his lawyers Scott Hutchison and Mark Strychar-Bodnar say in the statement of claim filed in court.

None of the allegations made by Karahalios has been proven in court.  The PC Party has not yet filed its statement of defence.

“Our party does not comment on ongoing legal matters,” said PC spokesman Marcus Mattinson in an email to CBC News on Friday. “We remain confident in the integrity of the results of the executive election during the 2018 convention.”

Contained in the lawsuit is an allegation that a scrutineer saw ballots given to Ford’s wife and daughters and his then-chief of staff Dean French even though they were not eligible to vote. The lawsuit also alleges that Ford’s then-principal secretary Jenni Byrne told Karahaios that the premier’s office wanted Patterson to win.

Ford’s press secretary on Friday declined to comment on any specific claims in the lawsuit, saying the party’s email from its spokesman stands.

The lawsuit alleges breach of contract by the PC party, arguing that a commitment to follow the rules for a free, fair and democratic election was part of the contract that Karahalios signed to run. The lawsuit asks for $100,000 in damages but does not specifically ask the court to overturn or nullify the election result.

Karahalios was a fierce critic of former PC leader Patrick Brown over alleged irregularities in candidate nominations ahead of the last provincial election. In 2017, when Brown was leader and Brown’s ally Rick Dykstra was party president, the party stripped Karahalios of his membership and sued him over making the allegations.

After Brown resigned in early 2018, several of those nominations were overturned, Ford reinstated Karahalios’ membership, and approved Belinda Karahalios as the candidate in Cambridge.

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