The second recall campaign for MLA Marc Dalton has ended the way the first one did – in failure.
But organizers are blaming the Liberal party for scuttling their efforts this time, saying that party workers impeded canvassers collecting signatures.
As well, the proponent who launched the recall campaign had to leave the province on a personal issue.
B.C. Citizens for Recall wouldn’t say how many names they had collected in an effort to force Dalton to resign his seat and run in a byelection under the Recall and Initiative Act.
In order to force Dalton to resign and call a byelection, they had to get 40 per cent of eligible voters (15,410) to sign up within 60 days, or by June 15.
Recall spokesperson Jennifer Heighton said a complaint has been filed with Elections B.C.
She said the harassment of canvassers started at the Ridge Meadows Home Show, where the B.C. Liberals also had a booth.
Heighton said observers would interrupt canvassers who were talking to voters. Arguments would start, scaring off any potential signers.
Or the observers would stand close to canvassers and voters as if they were part of the conversation. That’s a violation of the recall act, Heighton said.
Many wore “Marc Dalton observer” name tags, she added.
“It’s more an effect on the canvasser’s ability to do their job in a confident way,” she said.
“Just the physical presence was making the canvassers uncomfortable. So it’s difficult to collect signatures when you are being basically intimidated that way.”
In addition to the home show, Heighton claimed the harassment took place when the recall group was trying to reach voters at the Haney Farmers’ Market or at locations downtown.
She couldn’t say how many possible voters were dissuaded from signing.
She said that observers repeatedly intervened as canvassers spoke to potential recall petition signers, interrupting and preventing some signatures as a result.
“Regardless of the Maple Ridge recall withdrawal, it is critically important that the legislation be respected and the right of democratic dissent be upheld. That’s why we want Elections B.C. to fully investigate this situation.”
However, according to Elections BC, the actions of the observers didn’t contain any threats of violence so they don’t contravene Sec. 157 of the recall act. The act also doesn’t regulate the actions of observers, said Elections BC.
BC Citizens for Recall lawyer Carmela Allevato, disagreed with that decision, saying the chief electoral officer seems to think it’s OK for observers to interfere “as long as they don’t engage in criminal conduct.”
That makes the recall act redundant, she added, calling for a full investigation of the petitioners’ complaints.
Dalton said that at the start of the recall campaign, he discussed with Elections B.C. about having observers during the petition process. An office was opened up and staffed with volunteers.
He said the half-dozen observers, or scrutineers, were respectful and tracked what people said how many were signing.
“They were being watched and they were being respectful.”
And if observers did talk to voters, “If that did occur, it probably would have happened very infrequently.”
Jillian Stead, spokesperson for the B.C. Liberal party, said the party considers the complaint unfounded.
Observers were told to “conduct themselves in a respectful and professional manner when out canvassing.
“They were asked only to monitor the proponent’s behavior to ensure they were being honest in their solicitations, and to interfere only to correct misinformation.”
She said under Sec. 157 of the Recall and Initiative Act, no one can interfere with someone’s right to sign a petition and the observers took that seriously.
He added that the Liberals have known for awhile that the recall campaign wasn’t resonating with voters in Maple Ridge-Mission.
“We knew that they knew how few people were not supporting them.”
The recall campaign also likely knew what little support they had, he said.
Dalton said the recall campaign drew less than 10 per cent of the required 15,410.
Dalton is currently sitting in the B.C. legislature as an independent while he pursues the chance to run for the federal Conservatives in this October’s election.
He added that while scrutineers are not mentioned in the recall act, there’s nothing that prohibits them.
The recall campaign initially was started by Mission resident Yvonne Hale. However, she had to leave the province because of a serious illness in her family.
The first attempt at recall was by the Maple Ridge Fight HST group and took place in 2011, collecting about 2,500 signatures, short of the number required to start the recall process.
The effort was abandoned as organizers focused on a mail-in referendum that defeated the Harmonized Sales Tax and returned B.C. to using provincial sales tax and the federal goods and services tax.
The recall campaign against Burnaby North Liberal MLA Richard Lee continues.