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City of Coquitlam, former councillor in court on June 21 over byelection petition

A hearing is set at the Vancouver Law Courts on the City of Coquitlam's decision not to replace former councillor Bonita Zarrillo this term.

Lawyers for the City of Coquitlam will be in court on June 21 to respond to a petition from a former city councillor and a resident.

Neal Nicholson and Wayne Taylor are suing city council and the municipality for failing to hold a byelection to replace Bonita Zarrillo, who was elected last September as MP for Port Moody–Coquitlam.

She quit her council seat on Oct. 1, 2021.

The date for the hearing was set yesterday (May 3) at the Vancouver Law Courts. In March, a judge dismissed an application by Nicholson and Taylor for a short leave — that is, to speed up the legal case.

Their petition cites a unanimous motion by council last fall to ask the provincial government to waive the byelection requirement in the Local Government Act, which states that a byelection must be held before Jan. 1 of a general election year. The next time voters go to the polls is Oct. 15, 2022.

At council’s March 28 meeting, city manager Peter Steblin took responsibility for not conducting a byelection, saying the timing was difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic and weather-related challenges last fall.

As well, Steblin called on the provincial government to update its legislation for byelections held close to the end of the council term.

He said the city believes a byelection isn’t “practical or desirable.”

But, in the petition, as well as previous comments made to the Tri-City News, Nicholson said other B.C. municipalities have conducted byelections despite the staffing, financial and political pressures.

They include Prince George (school trustee seat); Nanaimo–Ladysmith (school trustee seat); and, most recently, Lytton (two council seats).

In the latter case, the provincial government told Lytton officials that it didn’t have to hold a byelection because 90 per cent of its village was destroyed in a fire on June 30, 2021.

However, Mayor Jan Polderman said they wanted candidates to run. It was the first time that Lytton residents were able to vote by mail — an option that many B.C. municipalities are looking at before this year’s general election.

The new Lytton councillors will be sworn in on May 11.

The City of Coquitlam declined to comment on the lawsuit while the matter is before the courts.