Qualicum Beach residents will head to the polls on May 15 to elect a new councillor to replace Adam Walker, now the MLA for Parkville-Qualicum.
Town council, with Coun. Robert Filmer returning following a two-month medical leave of absence, endorsed Heather Svenson to be the chief election officer at the its regular council meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 24. The town’s deputy corporate administrator, Haylee Gould, was named the deputy chief election officer.
Filmer expressed some disappointment that it took so long to get the byelection going. He understands one of the reasons is because he was on leave but felt council could have gone ahead with it sooner.
“I know there was advice given by the province and I would love to see that advice whether it was written or verbal to see why they would recommend because I was gone,” said Filmer. “Even before that, we had an opportunity to call a byelection before I had to take a leave.”
“They (Ministry of Municipal Affairs) supported our decision,” said Svenson. “The support of the decision was we did not want to call two byelections. It was uncertain whether you [Filmer] would return. So we did not want the expense to the taxpayers to have two byelections.”
One of the other issues council addressed was Coun. Teunis Westbroek’s notice of motion for a referendum question to be added on the ballot that would ask electors if they are in favour of increasing the town’s number of councillors from four to six (plus the mayor) effective Oct. 15, 2022.
The motion failed when the voting ended up in a split, with Filmer also in favour and Mayor Brian Wiese and Coun. Scott Harrison opposed.
Westbroek indicated he has noticed in the last 25 years, particularly this term, that the issues are coming more often to council and have become more complex. He said he would favour having more councillors.
“I think we need to at least ask the public whether they think we’re ready for a six-person council,” said Westbroek. “That doesn’t mean we’re now all of a sudden a city. We stay the same. There are many towns as big as us that have six member councillors and a mayor. So I don’t think that’s the issue. But I do believe it will create better communication, more people, working committees, attending to functions, talking to people, listening to people and I think it will generally result in a more wholesome debate.”
Harrison did not agree to do it during a byelection.
“If we want to do this during the general election that would be perfectly acceptable,” said Harrison, who added the issue with byelctions was a usually lower voter turnout.
Harrison also added that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a concern and he doesn’t expect more people would participate in the byelection. He pointed out that the last provincial elections had the largest mail-in ballots in history but it was the lowest turnout in the 21st century of any provincial election.
“So putting a referendum question when we’re already dealing with the pandemic and it’s a byelection, you’re not really asking the full public who would show up for general election,” said Harrison.
Filmer said Qualicum Beach residents are very engaging and would vote either by going to the polling stations or via mail-in ballots. He is confident Svenson, who was voted as the chief elector official, would be able to fully organize proper mail-in ballots and handle them properly.
“I fully support having this question on the byelection because it prepares us for the next election,” said Filmer. “If we put this in the 2022 election, that’s four more years of a five-person council and that’s the frustration that we’ve been hearing from people.”
Wiese was puzzled why the issue has suddenly come out and become a concern.
“This never crossed my desk,” said Wiese. “No one has ever brought it up that we need more councillors. It wasnt until we lost Adam (Walker) our MLA and we lost Robert (Filmer) for a short time and we were down to three that I actually heard some comments about the size of our council. And you know bigger is not always better. I don’t believe that. I am not going to speak in favour of this but I will support it in the next election if you want to put a referendum then.”