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No thanks, Coquitlam council says for byelection

'It doesn't make much sense,' Coquitlam council says of byelection rule.

Coquitlam voters will not head to the polls this winter, if city council gets its way.

On Monday, at the request of Coun. Dennis Marsden, council-in-committee unanimously voted to write a letter to B.C.’s minister of municipal affairs, Josie Osborne, to waive the requirement for a civic byelection.

Under the provincial Local Government Act, a byelection has to be held as soon as possible if a municipal council seat is open before Jan. 1 in the year of the general election.

With Bonita Zarrillo out following her federal win last month and with the next general election about a year away, Marsden said it’s not reasonable for Coquitlam residents to return to the ballot box given the timing, costs and health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2013 byelection, in which Zarrillo and Coun. Chris Wilson clinched their seats, cost taxpayers around $200,000, said city manager Peter Steblin.

Zarrillo formally tendered her resignation to the city last Friday after she was elected as the NDP MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam, beating Conservative incumbent Nelly Shin.

Marsden also argued that holding a byelection so close to a general election would be difficult for candidates to raise funds given the updated campaign financing rules and the limits on contributions.

In addition, he said, the winner would have less than eight months on council, if they assumed their position in mid-March.

“To me, it doesn’t make much sense,” said Coun. Teri Towner, noting voter fatigue with recent provincial and federal races, as well as the notoriously low turnout for byelections.

But while byelections are difficult to hold during the cold, wet and dark months, they’re also part of democracy, Wilson said, adding that city councillors who get elected to another government level offer “a benefit” to the municipality with their local knowledge.

Jay Gilbert, Coquitlam’s director of intergovernmental relations and legislative services, said city staff are now preparing for a possible byelection — as well as the Oct. 15, 2022, vote — to examine future labour and computer logistics, as well as polling stations.

“It’s a statement of how close we are to the election that’s already scheduled,” he said.

The letter to Osborne, which is also being sent to Tri-City MLAs and the Union of B.C. Municipalities, also calls on the provincial government to reform the civic election legislation.