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27 sworn statements indicate disqualified Edmonton Tory candidate had necessary support

A disqualified Progressive Conservative candidate has sent sworn statements from 27 supporters to party officials in a bid to show he met the requirements to contest the nomination in Edmonton-Ellerslie.

The documents, which were obtained by Metro this week, each contain a name, signature, address and some have a phone number. All were notarized on either Feb. 18 or 19.

It was on Feb. 18 that Balraj Manhas, president of the United Cabbies Association, claims he was informed by party officials that he could either withdraw his bid for the Ellerslie nomination or be publicly disqualified as his papers lacked the required 25 signatures.

Manhas said he felt "coerced" into taking his name off the ballot and only did so on the promise of a full investigation by the party. His decision led to the acclamation of incumbent Naresh Bhardwaj as the candidate.

But the controversy was far from over, as Metro was provided with two statutory declarations from two Manhas supporters claiming they'd been approached by a proxy operating on behalf of Bhardwaj who attempted to mislead them and, in one case, offer a bribe.

PC officials said an internal investigation turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on Bhardwaj's part, but the incumbent has since withdrawn from the election and filed a $1-million lawsuit against one of his accusers, Balbir Sidhu.

But Manhas said the sworn statements he gathered over a day and a half immediately after being disqualified are proof he should have been allowed to run. He said he held off on going public with the documents to give both the party and Edmonton police, who were called in by the NDP, time to properly investigate.

But the longtime taxi advocate said the party got on his last nerve when PC leader Jim Prentice said on the campaign trail last week that "I believe, at the end of the day, Mr. Bhardwaj will be totally innocent."

"How can he say that when the police investigation is on?" Manhas said Thursday. "That means he's just trying to influence that police investigation. So, I was very shocked. I learned a big lesson."

In an effort to be thorough, Metro reached out to every Manhas supporter that included a phone number in their statutory declaration. At press time, 18 of them had been reached and all confirmed they'd signed his original nomination papers. The names on the declarations were also cross-referenced with photos of his original nomination papers that were previously provided.

Some supporters said Thursday they were disgusted by the disqualification.

"It's just unbelievable . . . it's totally messed," said supporter Ramnit Chahil, who claims she, her husband, daughter, and niece all signed the taxi advocate's papers.

"I don't know why these things are happening," Chahil added.

Manhas also provided a Feb. 19 email in which he wrote a letter to a party vice-president and supplied electronic copies of the sworn statements. He said the only response he's received was a Feb. 26 email from party president Terri Beaupre, which was also provided.

"Your concerns expressed regarding the nomination in Edmonton-Ellerslie have been brought to my attention," she wrote at the time. "I have them and will look into them."

But the PC party stuck to its guns when asked Thursday about the sworn statements provided by Manhas.

"We stand by the results of our original investigation and look forward to getting Harman Kandola elected in Edmonton-Ellerslie," party executive director Kelley Charlebois said in an email.

Kandola was named the candidate after Bhardwaj's withdrawal.

Manhas, meanwhile, said he's cut all ties with the PC party after 12 years.

"One thing is clear — this party is controlled only by a few people . . . the grassroots workers, they have no say and they don't even honour them," he said, before addressing those planning to cast ballots on May.

"Vote for any non-PC party — whichever — we need a strong opposition in Alberta," he said. "This is not fair for anybody."

— With files from Darren Krause & Ryan Tumilty

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