Nova Scotia’s Chief Electoral Officer says there’s no need for a judicial review in the case of her cancelled investigation in the provincial Liberals’ campaign in Preston.

As the Halifax Examiner reported last week, the Liberals applied for judicial review of a decision to investigate the party:

Dorothy Rice announced ahead of the Preston byelection in August that she was launching an investigation into the Liberals’ campaign materials regarding a potential dump in the riding.

Liberal candidate Carlo Simmons was campaigning against the proposed construction and demolition dump with signage indicating Premier Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservative government had done nothing to stop it. The PCs complained about the signs in late July.

“Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Dorothy Rice issued an Order to the Nova Scotia Liberal Party on August 1, 2023,” Elections Nova Scotia said in an Aug. 3 statement.

“That Order required the Liberal Party and their candidate for the Preston electoral district by-election, Carlo Simmons, to, by 12 am August 3, 2023, remove all signs and cease distribution of any campaign materials which do not accurately reflect the facts involving a potential C&D processing facility in the Preston community.”

The Liberals refused.

“A decision has been made to initiate a formal investigation under Section 287 of the Elections Act and Elections Nova Scotia has reached out to engage the services of the Provincial RCMP to assist in this process,” Elections Nova Scotia said.

PC candidate Twila Grosse won the election, and Rice cancelled the investigation a month later on Sept. 8.

Liberal lawyer Mitchell Gallant sought a review anyway. The party wants the court to quash the CEO’s decision to initiate the investigation; quash the finding that the party breached the Elections Act; declare that the CEO doesn’t have the authority to order the removal of campaign materials; and declare that the Elections Act should be “strictly construed so as to comply with the Charter.”

‘There remains no live controversy’

Lawyers Scott Campbell and Jennifer Taylor filed notice of participation on Sept. 14.

“By reference to paragraph 16 of the Notice for Judicial Review, the investigation at issue has been discontinued and there remains no live controversy,” Campbell and Taylor wrote.

“Accordingly, the issues raised in this proceeding are moot and beyond the scope of judicial review. In the circumstances, this Honourable Court should decline to exercise its discretion to determine the issues.”

Rice will participate if the review proceeds anyway. The lawyers summed up the CEO’s position: “as an independent officer of the House of Assembly, the Chief Electoral Officer has acted and will continue to act in a manner consistent with the objectives of the office, and the purposes and provisions of the Elections Act … in order to uphold the integrity of the electoral process.”

There’s a hearing scheduled for Oct. 26, when a judge will give directions and potentially set a date for the review.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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