- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

TORONTO For politicians who routinely twist the truth, a ruling by the Supreme Court of British Columbia could be a warning. The court fired a mayor for lying to voters.

Mike Frazier, mayor of the northern British Columbia village of McBride, was ordered out of office last month for violating a section of the province's election act that makes it a crime to persuade someone to vote for or against a candidate or party through fraudulent means.

Prior to November's election, Mr. Frazier and his campaign workers distributed a flier telling voters the incumbent mayor had voted to raise property taxes on landowners both inside and outside the village.

"You may thank your current mayor for this further burden upon your lives," the flier said.

The problem, as Judge Glen Parrett ruled, was that the previous mayor, Maurice Bonneville, did not vote on the tax increase because no vote had been held, and even his power to levy the tax was in question.

Testifying in court, Mr. Frazier admitted he knew the information on the flier was inaccurate.

Judge Parrett did not break the sanctity of the ballot box by polling voters on why they had chosen one candidate or another. He ruled that based on the evidence and the balance of probabilities, the flier did lead some voters to vote for a candidate they would not otherwise have voted for.

Mr. Frazier was elected with 187 votes to Mr. Bonneville's 53.

The landslide, however, turned into a mudslide when Mr. Bonneville challenged the election in court.

The law, Judge Parrett ruled, is intended to safeguard the public from fraudulent conduct intended to sway their votes. "While the law is not meant to guard against trivial misrepresentation, holding political candidates and parties to a standard of non-fraudulent dealing with the public is in accord with maintaining the integrity of the electoral process," he said.

Then, in words that would make a cynic blush, the judge said, "It is not unreasonable to expect politicians to uphold a level of accuracy, honesty and candor."

"If [Judge] Parrett's ruling was widely applied, a lot of people would be out of office," said Patricia Petersen, an American-born political science professor at the University of Toronto.

In fact, the ruling sets a precedent for a larger case also before the British Columbia courts in which the previous provincial election is being challenged because the incumbent New Democratic Party is thought to have won re-election by lying to voters about the size of the province's deficit.

Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma and now professor at the Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said he is not aware of any similar cases in the United States.

Unlike many voters who assume politicians routinely lie, Mr. Edwards said, "A truth-in-politics law would probably not affect many [U.S.] politicians. But even for those who might be affected, it would be difficult to legally prove a case against them.

"How do you know how many votes were affected and what issues motivated their vote, and whether those votes were changed and that affected the outcome?" he asked. "If I were to be cynical, I'd think the judge who overturned the [Canadian] election preferred the guy who lost."

After the verdict, Mr. Frazier said the flier did not affect the outcome of the election. But he added, "Any politician should realize, if they are going to advertise or distribute any information about their opponent, they'd better make sure it is accurate and defensible."

Mr. Frazier has said he will not appeal the verdict against him, but he has not ruled out running again for mayor.

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