Whoever wins the election —in any of the available seats in Parksville, Qualicum Beach, the school district or regional district, they need to know there are people watching.
If they don’t like what they see, and changes aren’t made, they can always take matters into their own hands.
In 1998, local citizens did just that in a recall campaign to force then-BC Liberal MLA Paul Reitsma out of office. The story goes, Reitsma had penned letters in assumed names, abused his ferry pass and was kicked out of caucus. Yet, he did not resign.
For people like Parksville’s Stan Gauthier, that wasn’t good enough. He and many others — some 300 all told — started a recall effort to have Reitsma removed.
“Parksville became the leading organizing group, I suppose, because (Reitsma) was best known here,” he explained.
“I felt this was a good cause. Reitsma had it coming to him,” Gauthier said. “He was thumbing his nose in people’s faces and staying on for a free ride.”
Volunteers, mostly seniors, worked day in and out to gather 25,000 signatures on the recall petition and once they were verified, Reitsma became — or almost became — the first sitting MLA ever recalled in B.C. He resigned right before the process was complete.
“The bigger the issue, the more people show up,” Gauthier said. “The cause was very clear, close to home and something that was important.”
So important, he said he was willing to tolerate threats over the campaign and put in many hours to see it through.
Gauthier said the group was frustrated when the recall process was usurped by Reitsma’s resignation, but overall, it was a positive exercise.
“Volunteers faced gates and dogs and bites in order to get the signatures,” he remembered. “We kept a map up with colour codes, to be sure we got enough signatures.”
When Reitsma resigned, Gauthier admitted the organizers had a celebration.
“I found it was very rewarding. The people who volunteered for it, worked for a good community.”
Now that Reitsma is back in this civic election, Gauthier said his first thought was, “how can he even be thinking of running?”
“You can’t imagine how surprised I was,” Gauthier continued, adding he wondered why and what had drawn Reitsma back.
Gauthier said he ran into Reitsma at a Parksville Residents Association meeting, where the former Parksville mayor and MLA let it be know he would run again.
“I think (Chris) Burger is a shoe-in,” Gauthier said when asked about Reitsma’s chances. “(Burger) has never been on the wrong side of the fence.”
Gauthier said the 1998 recall campaign was “a hell of a job” but he enjoyed it.
“I considered it my contribution to democracy.”