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No changes to byelection rules: province
A request by Coquitlam city council to change the rules about civic byelections was dismissed by the provincial government this week.
Mayor Richard Stewart wrote on behalf of council last month to Coralee Oakes, B.C.'s minister of community, sport and cultural development, to ask for ways municipalities could avoid the high cost of byelections.
Coquitlam — which on Monday voted 4-2 to hold a vote this fall to fill the vacancies left by recently elected MLAs Linda Reimer and Selina Robinson — is one of 13 B.C. municipalities that saw their civic politicians leave for provincial seats.
Besides Coquitlam, those municipalities facing byelections following the resignation of mayors or councillors are: Dawson Creek, Penticton, Ashcroft, Sicamous and Prince Rupert.
Those councils that will not fill the vacancies before the November 2014 election are: Langley City, Oliver, Delta, Abbotsford, Pitt Meadows and Surrey (Pemberton is undecided).
The estimated cost of a byelection in Coquitlam is $150,000, including staff time, and previous byelections recorded turnouts well below that for a general election. In the 2007 byelection to replace Louella Hollington, the turnout was 4.9% while the 2010 byelection to fill Fin Donnelly's chair attracted just 7.5% of eligible voters even with the addition of referendum questions about smoking on patios and off-leash dog times at Mundy Park.
In his letter to Oakes, Stewart asked that the Local Government Act (LGA) be changed so municipalities wouldn't be forced to hold byelections after June 1 of the year preceding the year of the general local election; currently, the cutoff is Jan. 1 of the election year. Failing that, Stewart suggested the LGA allow the first runner-up candidate who lost the campaign take over an empty council spot.
But Oakes contended the LGA is flexible enough: Councils can vote for a byelection; newly elected MLAs can hold both civic and provincial jobs; and leaves of absence are permitted until Jan. 1.
"Municipal councils are in the best position to carefully weigh various factors in making this decision," she wrote to Stewart on July 8.
Oakes also recommended Coquitlam raise the matter before the Union of BC Municipalities — which council did two years ago (after Donnelly resigned to become MP) but its motion failed to garner support from the delegates.