In early July, The NEWS reported that a Parksville city councillor was resigning for health reasons, possibly resulting from a snake bite three years ago.
In the sometimes venomous political arena, often referred to as a nest of vipers full of snake oil salesmen, one may be tempted to speculate that such an injury could be an occupational hazard. Editor John Harding’s July 14 editorial noted that the retiring councillor was “always first to ask how much something would cost and how the city would pay for it.”
That line rang a bell in the canyons of my mind, having attended council meetings very regularly in bygone days; remembering that a young councillor had quit mid-term to take up employment in Alberta, I delved into my dusty archives to find some details of that by-election.
Turned out it was in 2001, and local media reported that the byelection cost taxpayers $10,000. However, I eventually gleaned information from the finance department at city hall that the cost was in fact $14,447; or $22 for each vote, as the pathetic turn-out was a measly 10 per cent of the electorate, or about 675 civic-minded residents at that time.
With these facts in hand, I wrote to all council members after the next civic election in 2002, asking if they would be willing to place a part of their stipend into an interest-earning escrow account, to cover costs of an unforeseen resignation for reasons other than ill-health or compassionate grounds. Surprisingly, three of the seven members responded to me, but as expected my idea went over like a pregnant pole-vaulter; the then-mayor quoted from Section 37 of the Municipal Act governing byelections.
I thought my idea was valid, and felt vindicated in 2004 when Courtenay councillor Michael Holland resigned mid-term after a dispute with his MLA Stainless Stan Hagen and immediately deposited a cheque for $15,000 with the city clerk to help defray byelection costs.
Hopefully when our byelection rolls around later this year, Parksvillians will turn out in much larger numbers, and maybe, just maybe, city hall will be more forthcoming to the media regarding the true cost than they were 15 years ago.
Councillors may even reconsider my suggestion about paying costs should they quit mid-term for reasons other than health, compassion, etc — but not holding my breath on that one.