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Coquitlam mayor 'disappointed' with low voter turnout at 20%

Mayor Richard Stewart suggests "complacency" for five-point drop over last civic election.
richard stewart
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart was re-elected on Oct. 15, 2022.

Why did only one-fifth of eligible Coquitlam voters cast their votes for mayor, city council and school board in the civic election?

Mayor Richard Stewart suspects complacency.

The veteran politician heard the disinterest at the doorstep while campaigning since late August.

“There was no reason to pull them to a polling station,” said Stewart, who — like in 2014 and 2018 — gained around 68 per cent of the vote.

“When you hear 10 to 20 times that, ‘We have no issues, we’re happy,’ we need folks to understand that, whoever you’re voting for, cast a ballot.”

Voter turnout is typically low in Coquitlam, around the 25 per cent mark for the past two general elections; however, last Saturday’s result at 20.33 per cent (or 20,668 voters) was particularly disappointing, the mayor said.

Asked if the unusually warm and dry temperature played a part in voter apathy, Stewart said the “weather was magnificent. Never have I campaigned in shorts in October or worried about sunscreen.”

Still, staging an election in wet or snowy conditions would also pose a barrier, he commented.

(By comparison, Port Coquitlam’s turnout was also paltry at 18.24 per cent while Port Moody’s was 36.28 per cent, Vancouver’s was 36.3 per cent and Surrey’s 34.5 per cent).

Stewart told the Tri-City News on Monday that his primary focus of the campaign was to get people out to vote “because it means greater democracy.”

Stewart faced the same challengers as in the 2018 election: Adel Gamar, a Harvard University graduate and board chair of Douglas College; and Mark Mahovlich, a book author about conspiracy theories who listed his address as the homeless shelter at 3030 Gordon Ave. in Coquitlam.

And, as in the past two elections, Coun. Craig Hodge took top place on the council ladder, scooping 10,799 votes over second-place winner Coun. Teri Towner with 9,945 nods.

In fact, all Coquitlam incumbents won.

And, next month, they will be joined at the table by two men with deep roots in the community:

  • Matt Djonlic, the executive assistant to Coquitlam–Maillardville MLA (and B.C.’s finance minister) Selina Robinson
  • Lawyer Robert Mazzarolo, who, in 2018, lost a council seat by nine votes

Stewart expects the pair will fit in well. “They both are among the most knowledgeable of the candidates,” the mayor said. “I look forward to working with them. We had a really good council and I’m hopeful that this will prove to be a great, stable council.”

Stewart tipped his hat to Djonlic, a labour-backed first-time candidate whom he said will bring a wealth of knowledge about the provincial government to city hall discussions.

“There’s a learning curve” for new council members, the mayor said. “I know, in Matt’s case, it will be a shorter learning curve.”

Endorsed by Coun. Chris Wilson, who did not seek re-election, Djonlic said he resigned his government post after he secured the fifth out of the eighth council spot.

“I’m quitting the provincial government to focus on being a full-time councillor,” Djonlic told the Tri-City News.

On Monday, he was reading the orientation package sent by city managers to bring new council members up to speed on civic affairs.

“It’s going to be a lot of listening and learning. I have a ton to learn…. We’re going to be drinking from a fire hose here.”

Djonlic said he expects to be sitting down with his former boss, Selina Robinson, soon to share priorities and solutions for Coquitlam constituents.

As for newly elect councillor Mazzarolo, he plans to continue to practise as a lawyer while also holding public office.

He’s used to working hard, he said, citing previous volunteerism work in the community that he’s now had to give up as board director.

“If it ever came to the point where I believed I could not give my very best to both the practise of law and the residents of Coquitlam as one of their city councillors, I would choose to put the practise of law on hold,” he told the Tri-City News, while also acknowledging the support of his wife.

Mazzarolo said he’s humbled by the voters’ confidence in him. To those who marked an X by his name on the ballot, Mazzarolo says thanks.

“Thank you Coquitlam residents,” he said. “Thank you for receiving me on your doorsteps over the last few months with kindness and curiosity. Thank you for expressing your trust and confidence in me at the ballot box. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve as one of your city councillors. I will always do my best for all of you.”

Now, the term begins and so does the heavy lifting, said poll-topper Coun. Craig Hodge.

Up first, comes a welcome to the new team, with the inaugural meeting scheduled for Nov. 7 at Coquitlam City Hall.

Then, it’s into the budget discussions with senior staff with the projected approval by mid December.

Ensuring there’s affordable housing for every demographic will be council’s main focus, Hodge said. As well, council has to watch its bottom line with the fiscal uncertainty in Canada.

Issues like the supply chain hold-ups are putting pressure on capital projects that must be delivered on budget and on time for taxpayers.

Hodge said he’s pushing to make sure a recreation centre is built on Burke Mountain, given the provincial government recently funded a joint middle/secondary school in the northeastern part of the city.

As well, Hodge said he wants to see more policing, especially to address mental health calls, as well as opportunities to use safety officers or bring back the auxiliary program “for more boots on the ground.”