Judge rules Alberta Party leader can run in next provincial election

Mandel had been banned for not filing nomination expenses by the Elections Alberta deadline

Alberta Party leader, Stephen Mandel. THE CANADIAN PRESS

EDMONTON — Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel is again free to run as a candidate in the province’s spring election.

Elections Alberta notified Mandel a month ago that he was banned from running for five years because he had missed a deadline to file nomination expenses when he ran to become his party’s candidate in Edmonton McClung.

Mandel took the matter to court.

A Court of Queen’s Bench judge ruled late Monday that Mandel had a reasonable excuse for missing the deadline last year because his chief financial officer took ill.

Justice Gaylene Kendell says in a written decision that Mandel’s team acted in good faith.

She also says the delay was not long and the nomination was uncontested.

“The applicants submit that the benefits of strictly enforcing the return deadline in the circumstances of this case are minimal, and drastically outweigh the adverse consequences of strict enforcement, warranting a relaxation of the deadline to file: I agree,” said the judge.

Mandel responded to the decision on social media.

“We feel vindicated that the Alberta Court’s decision has shown that needless red tape was tying up the election process. Now we can focus on what really matters, working towards a prosperous Alberta!” he tweeted.

Six other Alberta Party candidates were also given five−year bans for late filing, but five of them have since been reinstated through the courts.

Time was of the essence for Mandel and the other candidates as the three−month spring election window, as set down in legislation, is now open. Premier Rachel Notley is free to drop the writ any time between now and early May.

Voters have to go to the polls no later than May 31.

This is also a critical election for the Alberta Party, which is making a concerted effort this time around to escape the fringes of the political landscape. They elected one member to the legislature in 2015 and collected just over two per cent of the popular vote.

Mandel, the former mayor of Edmonton and a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, is one of the pillars of that strategy, which also includes running candidates in all 87 ridings.

That strategy suffered a body blow when Mandel was disqualified on Jan. 30 for missing −− by one day −− the deadline for filing his financials last September.

Under the rules, a candidate can get the ruling overturned by a judge if there are mitigating or extraordinary circumstances.

A week ago, Mandel’s lawyers appeared before Kendell to do just that.

They presented an affidavit from Brian Heidecker, Mandel’s chief financial officer, stating that he was ill during the crucial time around the filing deadline, with severe stress−related symptoms that made it difficult for him to function and concentrate.

The lawyers argued that there was confusion as others tried to step in and help Heidecker. They also noted that Mandel wasn’t trying to get away with anything underhanded, noting that he ran unopposed as a nominee, and didn’t rack up any expenses or contributions.

Mandel’s legal position changed during the process.

When his disqualification was made public three weeks ago, he immediately announced that he would fight the ban on the grounds that Elections Alberta had delivered confusing and conflicting information on the deadline. He said a bigger issue of democratic process was at stake.

In court, though, his lawyers did not make that argument and did not contest the fact Mandel missed the deadline.

At that hearing, lawyers for Elections Alberta did not oppose Mandel arguing for leniency, but indicated they would fight any accusation Elections Alberta had failed to properly perform its duties.

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