Thebacha vote upheld
Miltenberger can keep seat

by Mark Sproxton
and Chris Meyers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 31/97) - The legislative assembly has decided to pay up to $100,000 for the legal costs incurred by Thebacha MLA Michael Miltenberger after successfully fighting a civil lawsuit over his election.

The approval also came with a provision that any costs awarded to Miltenberger (left) would be returned to the assembly, said David Inch, the assembly's acting clerk.

A suit was launched against Miltenberger by more than 50 riding residents after the October 1995 territorial election. The suit claimed Miltenberger took part in illegal or corrupt activities during the campaign.

Justice John Vertes ruled last Thursday there were no allegations or suggestions of illegal or corrupt activities by any candidate, nor were there any suggestions of improprieties or negligence by election officials.

Costs of the suit, including who pays how much, have yet to be determined.

With the ruling, Miltenberger can keep his seat in the legislature.

"I am definitely relieved," he said last week. "It's been hard on my family and the community. Now I can get on with some other items on my agenda."

During the 1995 election, Miltenberger was declared the victor in the Thebacha riding with 607 votes, 36 more than Jeannie Marie-Jewell. Two other candidates were far behind.

The next month, 55 voters asked the court to declare the election invalid and order a new vote.

The central issue was whether 36 or more invalid votes were cast.

The question of the validity of the contested votes rested solely on an analysis of the legal definition of valid proxy votes.

Of 1,396 votes cast, 148 were by proxy from voters -- some faxed in -- and some were forms signed by people when they were simply put in front of them by campaign workers.

Vertes ruled that it appears the election would not have been affected by the 24 invalid proxy votes he found, even though most of the invalid proxy votes would have likely gone to the losing candidate.

He wrote that this type of proceeding is relatively rare in Canada due to the professionalism with which elections are conducted.

That meant he had to draw precedents from judgments made decades ago when "elections were far more volatile and boisterous affairs."

Marie-Jewell, who was not a petitioner in the action, said she had no comment on the ruling.