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Whistler council hopefuls lodge complaints over candidate meet-and-greet hosted by outgoing councillor

Two candidates allege possible ‘vote buying’ due to refreshments being served and implied endorsements at informal backyard meeting
Whistler's municipal hall.

Just days before Whistlerites head to the polls, two council candidates say they have lodged complaints with election officials over an informal meet-and-greet held Tuesday, Oct. 11 with local builders and tradespeople at a sitting councillor’s home. 

Longtime local builder and two-term councillor Duane Jackson sent out invites from his personal email on Oct. 7 to members of the local construction and trades sectors, the five incumbents running again—Mayor Jack Crompton, Arthur De Jong, Cathy Jewett, Jen Ford and Ralph Forsyth—and council candidates Jessie Morden and Jeff Murl. 

Initially, the concern among some of the candidates centred on the fact they weren’t invited to the private event. 

“On a moral level, for me, I thought, invite everybody,” said candidate Dawn Titus. 

Legally speaking, there is no obligation to extend invitations to all candidates, and Jackson said he has held similar meetings in past campaigns. 

“If I was running, I would invite people that I would want to work with—and that’s what I’ve done before,” he said, adding that Murl and Morden were the only two candidates who reached out to him directly to discuss issues in the construction industry. 

But of greater concern, according to Titus and fellow council candidate Curtis Lapadat, was that the emailed invitation from Jackson included written comments from Morden and Murl, as well as a promise of “light refreshments,” which they allege could qualify as vote buying. 

B.C.’s Local Government Act (LGA) states that “a person must not pay, give, lend or procure inducement” to influence a person’s vote. Inducement is described as including “money, gift, valuable consideration, refreshment, entertainment, office, placement, employment and any other benefit of any kind.” Jackson’s email specifically asked recipients “If you have time, and can vote in Whistler please stop by [my home] after work on Tuesday.” That wording, combined with the offer of refreshments and the inclusion of Murl and Morden’s statements to the building sector, led to the allegations of possible vote buying. 

Whether or not the complaints hold water will be up to B.C.’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs, an official with Elections BC said.

Whistler’s chief election officer Pauline Lysaght said she conferred with both the ministry and Elections BC regarding the event, and reviewed relevant legislation, and confirmed the event complied with local election requirements.

As for the allegations of vote buying, “it is important to note that these activities are permitted as long as there is no obligation on the elector, whether overt or implied, to vote for a certain candidate,” Lysaght explained. “My understanding is that some light refreshments available at an event in itself would likely not constitute an election offense, provided there was no effort (explicit or implied) to influence attendees to vote for a particular candidate. So, my interpretation (raised with Municipal Affairs) is that encouraging people to vote would not constitute an offence or contravene the LGA.” 

Asked whether the inclusion of Murl and Morden’s statements in the original email, along with the offer of refreshments, could constitute an “implied” obligation on an elector, Lysaght said it would ultimately come down to the event itself. 

“The key consideration will be whether or not someone who was in attendance at the event was actually induced to vote in a particular way as a result of attending the event and having a refreshment or other benefit (gift, money etc.). What happens at the event will be important to understand whether or not there was either implied or overt inducement,” she noted. “The public perception of the event would not necessarily impact the analysis, as this requirement is specific to a person.” 

Titus said she lodged a complaint with Lysaght, Whistler’s election officer, and Lapadat shared an email he sent to Elections BC outlining his concerns.  

Whistlerites head to the polls on Oct. 15.