Ryan Leef and six other Conservative MPs are seeking $355,907 from a group of voters who applied to have 2011 election results overturned because of fraudulent robocalls.
The voters, including Yukoner Tom Parlee, ultimately lost their bid, as the Federal Court judge found insufficient evidence to prove that the automated calls had affected election outcomes.
Judge Richard Mosley said in his May 23 ruling that he would grant a “modest fixed amount” towards legal costs to the Conservative MPs.
In a cost submission submitted June 21, lawyers for the MPs argued that $355,907 would meet that criteria.
“I don’t know how much their total bill was, but if that’s a modest cost, then they must have spent several fortunes,” said Parlee in an interview yesterday.
Parlee, a Whitehorse resident, received a robocall just before the election informing him that his polling station has moved. It had not.
He wondered why someone claiming to be from Elections Canada would at the last moment attempt to confuse him, he said.
“That’s what made me angry, and prompted me to do something about it.”
He made a formal complaint with Elections Canada, and that investigation is ongoing.
The court challenge was brought forward with the support of the Council of Canadians, who fundraised for the legal fees for the seven voters from ridings where the election outcome was in question.
Here in the Yukon, Ryan Leef won the election by 132 votes.
While Judge Mosley ultimately dismissed Parlee’s application to overturn the election, his judgement was highly critical of the Conservative MPs’ “transparent attempts to derail this case.”
“It has seemed to me that the applicants sought to achieve and hold the high ground of promoting the integrity of the electoral process while the respondent MPs engaged in trench warfare in an effort to prevent this case from coming to a hearing on the merits,” wrote Mosley.
The MPs brought forward six motions to have the case thrown out ahead of the hearing, all of which were dismissed by the judge.
Mosley ordered the MPs to pay legal costs to the applicants related to defending against those motions. How much that will add up to is still unknown.
The “modest fixed amount” that will be awarded to the MPs relates only to the costs of hearing the application to overturn the election results.
The MPs have asked for $120,000 in legal fees, plus $235,907 in other expenses. That represents only a small fraction of total costs, according to the submission.
Of those expenses, $166,363 paid for the services of an expert witness called to debunk survey data presented by the applicants.
But the judge found in his decision that that witness acted more as an advocate than an expert, whose evidence was “overly argumentative.”
Neither the MPs nor the individual applicants are personally on the hook for costs.
The MPs are funded by the Conservative Party of Canada, while the applicants are funded by the Council of Canadians.
But there is a fundamental inequality between the two, said Parlee.
Donations to the Conservative Party are tax deductible, and are therefore subsidized by taxpayers.
The Council of Canadians is not a charity and donors receive no tax break.
While the council did not require any of the applicants to put forward any of their own money, Parlee has contributed a couple of thousand dollars towards his legal fund, and is prepared to give more, he said.
He attended the December hearing in person and acted as a sort of spokesperson for the applicants.
“They’ve stepped forward in a very big way on behalf of Canadians, and they’ve taken a lot of criticism publicly and in the court, all of which has been dismissed by the judge,” said Garry Neil, the executive director of the Council of Canadians.
Parlee said that Conservative attempts to derail the case and file for exorbitant costs serve to discourage citizens from exercising their rights.
“I think any ordinary Canadian would be dissuaded from taking any problem forward if they had to face what we faced in the courts.”
The court case proved that election fraud occurred, but not necessarily that it swayed the outcome of the election.
Parlee still believes that the results here in the Yukon might have been different, he said.
“It was a very close election as it was. It wouldn’t take very much for it to go another way.”
Lawyers for Parlee and the other applicants have two weeks to respond to the MPs’ cost filing.
They will likely argue that the $7,000 the applicants were required by the court to pay as security against costs is the “modest fixed amount” that the judge is looking for, said Neil.
Ultimately, Judge Mosley will decide how much is owed.
He wrote in his decision that he would consider the Conservatives’ attempts to thwart the case in evaluating the appropriate amount.
Although the legal challenge is nearly closed, Parlee is hopeful that ongoing investigations will find someone responsible for the fraud, he said.
“I value our democracy, and it looks like it’s sliding.”
Ryan Leef has agreed to an interview but was not available before press time.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at