Thursday, March 11, 2004

March 11, 2004: Grewal's nomination meeting marred by irregularities

Nominee threatens to sue party

Tom Zytaruk

Two defeated contestants in the Newton-North Delta federal Conservative nomination meeting last week claim there were serious irregularities in the voting process, resulting in a sham election. And one of the nominees, Anita Chetal, threatens to unleash a big-gun lawyer on the party if it doesn't fix the situation as she sees it. "I want the party to nullify this election," she told the Now. "This is a miscarriage of democracy."

Incumbent MP Gurmant Grewal handily defeated Chetal and Joginder Randhawa at the meeting last week at Seaquam secondary school, receiving 362 votes to their 15 and four, respectively.

North Delta resident Santosh Joshi, a supporter of Chetal, said her family and two others met at the school to vote, but were turned away after standing in line for two hours. "Something went wrong somewhere," Joshi said. "We paid the dues." She said her name was not on the voting list at the meeting although she bought her $10-party membership more than a month ago. "I would like my money back," she said. She also questioned how, if her name was not on the list, did Grewal's office know to phone her number and seek her support at the meeting.

Chetal, who has filed a formal complaint with the party, said she signed up nearly 500 members but only 20 of those were on the list. "Hundreds of supporters came out to vote for me and they were turned away," Chetal told the Now. "They said if your name is on the list, fine, if you're not then go home. Old people were there. Women were there with their young children. They stood outside in the rain for nearly two hours and they could not vote for us.

"Who slashed the names?" she demanded. "We have to find out."

Randhawa, a North Delta resident, voiced similar concerns. He said he signed up about 200 members yet "none of my members were on the list. Even my name was not on the list."

"Mr. Grewal's team players were overriding our team players and there was a complete mess of the ballot papers," an exasperated Randhawa said. "Some people were just carrying _ anybody picking up, throwing there in the ballot boxes, it was like a disorganized election. I have never seen even a Sikh temple election that's been like that. No scrutiny, no security. It was like a complete mess."

For his part, Grewal said many of his members were missing from the list, too.

"This is uniformly affecting our candidates," he said. Names are missing from lists in other ridings, too, he said, due to misspelled names, inaccurate postal codes and the like. "Many of my members, probably much more than hers were missing from the list."

"I had about 150 people missing from my list." Grewal said yesterday, "the party has dismissed her complaint" and added he's satisfied the vote was fair. "She's simply whining," he said. "She's simply trying to stir the pot. She's not satisfied, I have no problem - I can probably defeat her with a bigger margin next time."

Brian Archer, the Conservative party's chief organizer for B.C., said yesterday that he hadn't seen Chetal's complaint and that any investigation would have to be done by the party's national headquarters in Ottawa. But he added other provinces are also grappling with missing members on lists. "It can be as simple as just a clerical overload where there are so many memberships coming in and just processing them all is just a tremendous challenge," he said.

Whatever the case, Archer doesn't believe the outcome would have been any different in Newton-North Delta. "That's the one thing that trumps everything. I don't think it would have had any impact on the outcome." Riding president John Connelly said an investigation is beyond his control. "It comes from Ottawa, they're the ones that sent us the list and the official list that they sent is the one we have to go by." The process, he said, was "fair as far as I'm concerned. We used the tools that we were given."