Can B.C. politicians lie their way into office? Not anymore, says a new court ruling, which has turfed out 22-year veteran White Rock city councillor James Coleridge—the longest-serving member on council—for engaging in “deceit and lies” during last fall’s election campaign in the Metro Vancouver suburb.
Last October his wife wrote a widely circulated email using the false names “Allison and Tom Baker.” The email alleged that several candidates were running a secret, pro-development slate that would foist high-rises on bucolic White Rock. Rather than keep his mouth shut, Coleridge, who learned immediately of the fraud perpetrated by his wife, told reporters that the “Bakers” had raised a good point. When confronted with evidence the email was sent from his home, Coleridge first denied any knowledge, and claimed to have been the victim of identity theft. Then, in court, he said he was trying to protect his pregnant wife, Anna. He later testified that he’d partially authored the email.
Justice Laura Gerow ruled that Coleridge, who ran on a promise of giving voters “straight answers,” had, in fact, done quite the opposite. She found his fraudulent misrepresentation had contravened B.C.’s Local Government Act, which forbids the use of “abduction, duress or fraudulent means” to win a vote.
But what seems a clear-cut victory for truth in politics sets a galling precedent: it allows failed candidates to unleash their lawyers to challenge losing results, says SFU political science professor Kennedy Stewart. In this case, for instance, the suit was brought forward by former councillor Matt Todd, whom the “Bakers” had fingered for being pro-development, helping Todd to lose the seat he’d held for six years. “It’s recall by judges,” says Stewart—a “highly unusual way to run elections.”
Coleridge, who was fined $20,000 to cover the cost of a new by-election to fill his position, is in Alaska and couldn’t be reached for comment. But, as of yet, there is no plan to appeal, says lawyer Jonathan Baker. Todd, meanwhile, has said he will not run again.