Top News

CBRM election candidates file complaint against returning officer

Jeff McNeil of Scotchtown, candidate for District 11 in the recently held Cape Breton Regional municipal election, said he and other candidates had many questions and concerns during the election but phone calls and emails were ignored by the returning officer. McNeil said he filed a complaint against Deborah Campbell-Ryan with the ombudsman’s office, Monday. Sharon Montgomery-Dupe/Cape Breton Post
Jeff McNeil of Scotchtown, candidate for District 11 in the recently held Cape Breton Regional municipal election, said he and other candidates had many questions and concerns during the election but phone calls and emails were ignored by the returning officer. McNeil said he filed a complaint against Deborah Campbell-Ryan with the ombudsman’s office, Monday. Sharon Montgomery-Dupe/Cape Breton Post
SYDNEY, N.S. —

Two candidates in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality election say they have filed official complaints against the returning officer, alleging she didn’t do her job, and others are considering jumping on board.

Jeff McNeil of Scotchtown, candidate for District 11, said he filed his complaint again Deborah Campbell-Ryan Monday.

Jeff McNeil
Jeff McNeil

“She was employed to do a job,” he said. “If she’s unable to do that job she shouldn’t have that role.“

McNeil said when candidates have questions they need to have the issues addressed or at least open lines of communication, so they can better understand what is going on. 

“Not just to brush us all off like we are nobodys, which was what in this case Deborah Campbell-Ryan did. It’s the returning officer’s job to meet with the candidates if they have concerns or questions regarding the election. Several of us have raised numerous concerns and have never gotten a call or email back from her.” 

McNeil said he did receive communication earlier on with Campbell-Ryan, when he expressed concerns on the bylaw preventing a recount, sending her various screenshots showing issues with voter PIN letters including duplicate ballots people received with different PIN numbers on each. 

“I also sent her a screenshot from a household with only two people in it, but they received upwards of five ballots,” he said. “Her response to me was, “It’s illegal to vote more than once, we believe people are going to be honest with that.”

McNeil said he was then told there would not be a recount, he could contact the Cape Breton Regional Police and she cut off all communication. The CBRPS is employed by the CBRM.

“That would be asking someone to investigate their boss,” he said. “That doesn’t sit well with me.”

As a result, McNeil said finally a rally was organized outside the civic centre by numerous candidates who were frustrated as well but she still declined to meet with them.

McNeil said as well candidates could log into the municipal site prior to the election and see how many people in their district had voted. Under ‘participants’ for District 11 there were blue brackets and a colon, so he contacted Campbell-Ryan to find out why but again didn’t get a response. 

“Not only did I send emails to Deborah Campbell-Ryan on some of these issues, but also to the clerk’s office and the elections office for the CBRM,” he said. "Even past election day I left voice mails with her that were unanswered.”

McNeil said he was speaking to someone from the ombudsman’s office on Tuesday and outlined everything that went on with this election. 

“I told him it very well could have affected the outcome of the election because we had valid questions that went unanswered,” he said. “He said it was going to take a couple days to do an investigation on it.”

Kevin MacEachern
Kevin MacEachern

Mayoral candidate Kevin MacEachern said he has also filed an official complaint with the ombudsman office against Campbell-Ryan.

“She wouldn’t answer any of our phone calls or our emails,” MacEachern said. ”I emailed twice with concerns and called about six times and never received a response.”

MacEachern said the only communication received from Campbell-Ryan was group messages for all of the candidates, but never to address an individual’s candidate’s question or concerns.

One of the main issues of concern for MacEachern and some other candidates was the amount of time the poll was open in Eskasoni through a kiosk set up. 

“It was open longer than any of the other polls,” he said. “It wasn’t authorized to be open, it wasn’t voted on by council for approval for it. It was just opened out of the blue, which is highly against the municipal act.”

MacEachern said every area of the municipality should have had the same and equal opportunity for voting, he added.

The complaint has nothing to do with Eskasoni itself, he said, adding his mother’s family comes from that community.

After the election, MacEachern said he tried contacting the returning officer again to find out how they came up with 51,078 votes for the mayoral race when the CBRM website showed 46,341 voted. 

“I called the clerk’s office and was told she wasn’t available,” he said. “I was told, ‘please call back at a later date.'”

MacEachern said with an electronic election there is no way to get a recount and council passed a bylaw saying there would not be any recounts anyway.

“I’ve actually spoken to a lot of the candidates, we’d all like to see the election deemed null and void,” he said. “Myself and a number of other candidates don’t believe it was actually a fair election. It wasn’t a fair process.”

Donald Campbell
Donald Campbell

District 12 candidate Donald Campbell said he is considering filing an official complaint, is upset over multiple issues regarding the returning officer. 

“I’m still kind of debating the process right now,” Campbell said. “I’m still talking with my wife on it.”

Campbell brought up the issue of inmates at the Cape Breton Correctional Centre having the right to vote. Campbell said Campbell-Ryan kept putting it off until the last minute and then permission was given but he was told the inmates had to vote according to their last home address.

“That is a farce because any permanent mail issued to them while at 1356 Gardiner Road – the correctional centre — would be deemed their address, which would be District 12.”

He said it was agreed inmates would vote District 12 but it was left into limbo until two days before the election when it was too late to get the inmates' information and PIN numbers.

 “Basically even though the inmates won their right to vote they then lost their right to vote,” he said.

Campbell said there wasn’t much vote difference between candidates District 12 winner Lorne Green and Kim Sheppard.

“The difference could have put her as the council person.”

Deputy ombudsman Christine Brennan said due to confidentially, they cannot confirm or deny receiving complaints regarding the CBRM election. However, Brennan said that goes with any reason someone might call their office. 

“One of the requirements under the act is that it calls for confidentiality,” she said. 

Brennan said often people call with a confidential or sensitive complaint that they wouldn’t necessarily want talked about publicly. 

“We do that to ensure integrity of the process but also to ensure that folks have confidence in our process that information that needs to be confidential will remain so.”

Campbell-Ryan declined an interview with the Cape Breton Post but in an email said she is satisfied that their team made the best possible effort in working with the provincial voter's list and the online voting company to deliver a fair and accessible election. At 62.6 per cent, the turnout was higher than recent municipal elections, she said.

"There are always challenges and imperfections in any election and we expect we can continue to learn and improve with each election."

RELATED:

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories