Chatham-Kent—Leamington Liberal candidate steps down, accuses NDP of ‘personal attacks’

Chatham-Kent—Leamington Liberal candidate Audrey Festeryga withdrew from the provincial election after the NDP raised concerns about her nomination.

In a statement on Thursday, Festeryga said she was stepping down due to “relentless personal attacks” from the NDP and to protect her family and her name.

“This decision was also made based on my personal sense of morals and ethics,” said Festeryga, who declined an interview request from CBC News.

His withdrawal comes just a week before the June 2 election, with advance voting already underway.

New Democrats have alleged that the Liberal Party broke election rules when filing nomination papers for Festeryga.

On May 12, the Liberals announced that Festeryga would run for the seat following the withdrawal of previous candidate Alec Mazurek after social media posts containing homophobic slurs made eight years ago were shared by the NDP.

However, the withdrawal came just hours before the deadline for filing nomination papers, which require the signatures of at least 25 voters in the constituency.

NDP alleges transferred signatures

According to Elections Ontario documents, “on the declaration of candidacy, you will need the signatures and addresses of at least 25 eligible voters in the electoral district in which you are running. These addresses will be verified by election officials when you file your documents.

The NDP alleges that the Liberals transferred signatures collected for Mazurek’s nomination to that of Festeryga, which the party says is not permitted under Ontario election rules.

The party says it was told an investigation was underway, but in a statement, a spokesperson for Elections Ontario said it was not saying whether it had received a complaint or whether a particular matter was under investigation.

On Wednesday, the NDP held a press conference with incumbent Essex MP Taras Natyshak, saying there is evidence of fraud and calling on Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca to remove Festeryga from his candidacy.

At a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, Del Duca accused the NDP and its leader, Andrea Horwath, of trying to undermine a candidate. He did not directly address the question of whether the NDP’s allegations were credible.

“The fact that while we’re all supposed to be doing more to encourage women in particular to step up and run for office, that Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP would be out there attacking a woman every day , questioning his integrity, questioning his reputation, trying to do whatever they can in the most despicable way imaginable is, again, appalling and unconscionable,” Del Duca said.

Horwath hit back at Del Duca when he spoke to reporters on Thursday afternoon, saying he should take responsibility for his actions.

“Vote fraud is voter fraud. You don’t just point fingers at others. You stand up, admit you made a mistake, and try to do better next time,” she said.

In her statement, Festeryga said it was “sad” to see what the NDP has become under Horwath, and she accused the party of trying to stop people from voting Liberal.

“I was a Liberal candidate in this area in three federal elections. In this provincial election, Elections Ontario verified my candidacy. No other candidate raised concerns about my nomination,” Festeryga said.

The following candidates, listed in alphabetical order, are running in Chatham-Kent—Leamington:

  • Trevor Jones, Progressive Conservative Party.
  • Rhonda Jubenville, New Blue Party.
  • Brock McGregor, NDP.
  • Rick Nicholls (incumbent), Ontario Party.
  • Jennifer Surerus, Green Party.