Legality of Oct. 18 municipal election challenged

UPDATE: Editor’s note – The Town of High Prairie was served with court documents Monday, Dec. 20 regarding the Oct. 18, 2021 municipal election. Barry Sharkawi says the next step in the process will be dealt with in an Edmonton courtroom Jan. 4, 2022. The story alleging an improper election was conducted Oct. 18, 2021 is below and published in the South Peace News print edition which is on newsstands today [Tuesday, Dec. 21].

Chris Clegg

South Peace News

A High Prairie citizen’s request to ask Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk to resign amidst improper election allegations is falling on deaf ears.

Barry Sharkawi, who lost the Oct. 18 municipal election to Panasiuk 367-314 votes, attended council’s Dec. 14 meeting to express his concerns and inform council he is considering legal action to contest the election.

“The way it was done, the way it was run, they [Town of High Prairie] have to do it the right way,” said Sharkawi, who later added, “I want to get the rights of the 314 people who voted for me.”

Panasiuk has not resigned.

“Barry has made allegations that the election was not properly conducted,” wrote Panasiuk in an email.

“I feel it is vital that the democratic process be fair and proper. If the appropriate authorities conclude that the election process was not fair or properly conducted, then I feel there should be another election. Until I hear otherwise, town council was elected by the people of High Prairie to guide the town, and that is what we will do.”

As for specifics regarding the election, Panasiuk added, “I can not comment on the specific concerns as I had nothing to do with the election process.”

Sharkawi told council he sent a letter of concern to Alberta Municipal Affairs Nov. 5 and received an answer Nov. 29. In the meantime, he began legal proceedings and was given an extension by the judge to serve the Town.

The judge accepted the case, said Sharkawi.

Sharkawi requested a new election in part to save High Prairie taxpayers the cost of legal bills, which could potentially amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

“I don’t want to see the taxpayer pay for mistakes,” said Sharkawi.

The mistakes are numerous, Sharakwi alleges.

1. No ballot boxes were taken to J.B. Wood Extended Care Unit. Denying the right to vote from the 60+ residents could have potentially altered the election’s outcome;

2. The hiring of Brian Martinson as returning officer. The job was not advertised to give everyone a chance to apply for the job;

3. Ballot boxes were not properly supervised by RCMP at Pleasantview Lodge thereby prompting security concerns. Sharkawi told council ballot boxes were supervised by RCMP at the senior’s centre in Slave Lake;

4. During the count, the ballot boxes containing the senior’s vote was mixed in with another polling station.

Town of High Prairie CAO Rod Risling responded to Sharkawi’s accusations including the omission of ballot boxes at J.B. Wood.

“Attempts to contact J.B. Wood were made,” wrote Risling in an email.

“It is unfortunate that ultimately there were no ballot boxes/voting in the facility. Administration will do a better job of addressing this issue in the future.”

As for the RCMP supervising the process, Risling said the following:

“There is no legislative requirement to have RCMP involved in an election process. We do not see legitimate reasons to allocate tax dollars to have the RCMP involved in our election process.”

Sharkawi believes RCMP would provide the service for free.

Risling added there was no reason to advertise the returning officer’s position.

“Provincial legislation states the CAO is the returning officer with the authority to delegate,” he wrote.

June 22, council appointed a staff member to be the returning officer and substitute returning officer. Soon after, the returning officer resigned and due to internal staffing shortages other options were considered.

“Seeing that the election was only three months away, a search of experienced local people was conducted to see if there was even interest in taking on the returning officer position,” said Risling.

Martinson, who previously served in the role, was appointed by council at the Aug. 10 meeting.

Meanwhile, Sharkawi wants justice.

“I run a good campaign. You run for a position because you want to do something for a community,” Sharkawi told council.

He than added council “could do something about it” and asked Panasiuk if he would resign. Panasiuk had no comment.

“Think about it with your conscious,” Sharkawi pleaded.

Councillor Judy Stenhouse wanted clarity of Sharkawi’s request.

“What exactly are you asking?’ she asked.

“I can’t ask anything,” replied Sharkawi.

“I only want fairness,” he said, adding his lawyers were ready to serve the Town.

“You guys think about it. You want to cost the Town money?”

“I’ll wait for the papers to come in and review them,” said Stenhouse.

She was not pleased with the presentation.

“I’m picking it up it’s a personal attack on our CAO and mayor,” she said.

“No,” replied Sharkawi.

Risling responded to the potential legal costs of Sharkawi’s proceedings.

“The Town is always concerned about costs. There are numerous urgent requirements that funding is required for. However, if anyone chooses to seek legal action against the Town, resources will be re-allocated accordingly.”

This item is reprinted with permission from The South Peace News, High Prairie, Alberta. See article HERE.

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