The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench considers the applicable standard of review in the context of a judicial review under the Election Act, RSC 2000, Chapter E-1. The court applies the standard of review and considers the reliance on “guidelines” developed to implement legislative requirements.

Anglin v. Alberta (Chief Electoral Officer), [2017] A.J. No. 1022, 2017 ABQB 595, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, October 5, 2017, T.D. Clackson J.

The applicant, Mr. Anglin, was a candidate in the Alberta provincial election in 2015. Like most candidates, he had election signs placed in the constituency in which he was seeking to be elected. Mr. Anglin’s election signs are at the heart of this decision.

The Chief Electoral Officer (the “Officer”) made a preliminary finding that Mr. Anglin’s election signs failed to comply with the requirements in section 134 of the Election Act, RSA 2000, Chapter E-1. Section 134 sets out various requirements with respect to advertisements on election signs, including the size, legibility and content of the information. In essence, the Officer concluded that Mr. Anglin’s signs failed to comply with these requirements. After additional correspondence with his counsel, the Officer made a final decision and imposed a financial penalty of $500 on Mr. Anglin for the violation.

Mr. Anglin commenced a judicial review of the Officer’s decision. He argued various grounds of bias, abuse of process and errors. However, at the heart of the matter was whether the Officer had acted ultra vires his jurisdiction by ostensibly rendering his decision to impose a financial penalty based on Guidelines established by the Officer to implement the requirements in section 134 of the Election Act. Mr. Anglin argued the Guidelines did not have the “force of law”, but were treated as such by the Officer to render his decision in this case. Mr. Anglin said this was a significant error as there appeared to be some inconsistencies between the requirements the Officer imposed in the Guidelines compared to what the legislation mandated.

The first issue before the Court was the standard of review. According to the Reasons, this was the first “appeal” to the Alberta Court of a decision under the Election Act. The Court, therefore, undertook a full Dunsmuir analysis to determine the standard of review. Mr. Anglin argued the standard of correctness applied because the determination that the Guidelines had the force of law was a pure question of law outside of the scope of the Officer’s jurisdiction, knowledge and expertise. On the other hand, the respondent argued the standard of reasonableness applied because the Officer was interpreting and applying a home statute.

Consistent with the growing trend in the standard of review jurisprudence, the Court held that the standard of reasonableness applied. The Court concluded the Election Act imposed a duty to make guidelines on the Officer. The Guidelines served two purposes: (1) to allow the Officer to formulate a principled foundation for the exercise of his discretion to enforce compliance with the Election Act; and (2) to inform persons what the Officer requires and what may be subject to non-compliance. The Court concluded there was no doubt the Election Act provided the authority on the Officer to determine whether advertisements complied with the Election Act—referring to it as a “core obligation” of the Officer’s mandate. The Guidelines, in the Court’s view, merely informed the exercise of this discretion. As such, determining whether a sign complies with the Election Act is not a question outside of the Officer’s jurisdiction; reasonableness was the standard to apply.

As to whether that discretion was exercised reasonably in this case, the Court had little trouble in concluding that it was. In fact, it appears little argument was offered from Mr. Anglin on the issue, having predominately focused on the standard of review, likely appreciating how significant this point was to the outcome (see para. 25). The court concluded the Officer correctly followed the Guidelines, which it was entitled to and in fact ought to have done. The Guidelines set out certain requirements that ought to be met to ensure compliance with the Election Act. If these were not followed, then, depending on the circumstances, the Officer may take steps to ensure compliance, such as imposing a penalty. That is exactly what was done in this case and there was nothing unreasonable about it.

The Court dismissed Mr. Anglin’s appeal of the Officer’s decision.

This case was digested by Adam R. Way, and first posted on Quicklaw and published in the Harper Grey Administrative Law Newsletter. If you would like to discuss this case further, please contact Adam R. Way at away@harpergrey.com.