Qualicum Beach town council appointed a chief election officer for its upcoming byelection and defeated a motion to include a referendum question, asking if residents want a six person council.
General voting day to replace Adam Walker, who now serves as Parksville-Qualicum MLA, will be May 15, according to Heather Svensen, chief election officer.
Coun. Teunis Westbroek brought forward the motion to include a referendum question regarding the size of council. It would have asked residents if they want to add a sixth councillor in 2022.
“I have been watching this for 25 years now — the issues are coming often and they are more complex,” he said. “I think we need to at least ask the public whether we are ready for a six person council.”
Voting on the motion was a tie and defeated with Mayor Brian Wiese and Coun. Scott Harrison opposed.
“Until the last two months, this never crossed my desk. No one ever brought it up that we need more councillors. It wasn’t until we lost Adam to MLA and we lost Robert for a short time that we were down to three that I actually heard some comments about the size of our council,” Wiese said.
He and Harrison both said they would support the referendum question in the 2022 general election, but not as part of the byelection.
Coun. Robert Filmer said the question could prepare council for the general election. “If we put this in the 2022 election, that is four more years of a five person council,” he said.
Harrison argued a small voter turnout due to the pandemic could inhibit the ability to get the full public’s opinion.
The town also appointed Haylee Gould as deputy chief election officer and authorized Svensen to send a request to the ministry of municipal affairs and housing for a ministerial order to facilitate the byelection during the pandemic. The town will request permission to use mail-in ballots.
Harrison said the pandemic could make it challenging for seniors to vote in-person and emphasized the byelection is being held under exceptional circumstance.
Filmer expressed disappointment at how long it took to declare the byelection. “I know one of the reasons was that I was on leave, but if the three-member council was in favour of having a byelection, I don’t see the issue why we couldn’t have had it,” he said.
The province supported the town’s decision to wait to call the election until Filmer returned from his two-month medical leave, according to Svensen. “We did not want to call two byelections — it was uncertain whether you would return,” she said in response to Filmer’s comment.