by Tom Sasvari
Sandfield citizens would prefer to vote
CENTRAL MANITOULIN—There were mixed reactions to Central Manitoulin’s announcement last Wednesday that it would bypass a by-election and appoint one of the eight candidates to fill the vacant Ward 3 seat.
The decision was made despite a call for a by-election from a packed public meeting, held at Big Lake schoolhouse.
“We pay some of the biggest taxes in the township,” Carol Nesbitt said. “The election should only include those candidates from Sandfield.”
Although council had chosen self-nomination because of the history of so few candidates putting their names forward in past elections, Reeve Gerry Strong told the residents council could reconsider and hold an election.
“Holding an election was discussed,” Mr. Strong said. “Considering that nine months ago, when the municipal election was held, there was an acclamation of councillors, we were shocked when eight people put their names forward” to fill Sandfield’s ward. The vacancy was created when Adam Smith stepped down.
He encouraged everyone at the meeting to fill out the available questionnaire and provide their thoughts as to the process the public would like to see council follow.
“I was on council for 29 years, reeve for four,” Jack Hayes said. He explained that when amalgamation of the municipality took place, it was promised that each of the three townships (Sandfield, Carnarvon and Campbell) would have equal representation on council. He said he felt in the current process, “the fairest way to go is to make sure another person (from Sandfield) is representing us on council.”
The large majority of those in attendance at the candidate’s night, by way of a show of hands, indicated they wanted an election to be held.
Of the eight nominations for the Ward 3 seat, four are from Sandfield. The other four, while residents of Central Manitoulin, do not live in the ward.
“When I talked to people, the message I received was very clear,” Ralph MacKenzie said. “They wanted the chance to vote. I know I would be prepared to withdraw (as I am not from Sandfield), but the message I heard loud and clear was that people want an election.”
One of the key reasons behind council’s decision was the cost of running an election.
Greg Young, one of the candidates for the ward, said he understood controlling expenses was important.
“If there is no election, would council guarantee the money saved would go back into Ward 3, or would it go to a drainage project or some other project? There has to be some common sense used.”
Two days after the public meeting, a special committee of the whole was held to decide the issue.
“We held a public meeting the other night,” the Reeve told the council, “It is my understanding that when we got all the comments back the majority wanted an election to take place within Sandfield Ward 3.”
Following his statement, Mr. Strong put forward a motion to proceed with an election to fill the vacancy on council. The motion was seconded by councillor Patricia MacDonald to open up discussion on the issue.
“I’ve gone through the questionnaires handed out to residents at the meeting the other night and the strong consensus is that it must be a ward three candidate who is selected,” said councillor Derek Stephens. “That being said, they want this done on a condition that the new councillor chosen must be from ward three.”
“I can personally make a decision who I like to see on council on behalf of ward three,” said Mr. Stephens, “and I feel we don’t have to waste money on an election. I will be voting against the motion that we hold an election, and feel we can make a decision here on who is selected as the new councillor.”
Ms. MacDonald acknowledged most of the public’s comments wanted someone from ward three, but under the Ontario Municipal Act the seat has to be open to candidates throughout the municipality. “I would like to remind other councillors and the public that once a candidate is elected to ward three, they represent the entire municipality. As councillors, this is what we have to do, be responsible for our entire municipality.”
“The percentage of people who voted in the last election was 42 percent and with mail-in voting this is not substantial,” Ms. MacDonald said. She also said with seasonal residents needing the opportunity to take part in the vote, and the time delays with holding an election, due to measures that are mandated be taken, by the province, “we could be here three months from now and still not have a councillor.”
“I disagree with one thing Derek said: most of the comments made by the public at the meeting were clear the taxpayers of ward three would like to see an election,” said Mr. Strong. He pointed out some of the comments made by those at the meeting on the questionnaires stated ‘this process sucks’ and ‘strongly feel an election should be held.’ Others indicated who council should select if they don’t agree on an election being held.”
“I have to agree with the consensus of the comments from the questionnaires,” Ms. Pearson-Trainor said. “There are certain parametres we have to follow and Canada Post has rejected the process of mail in ballots, unless it is part of regular, full election. We would have to go to a private or in-house mail in process, which would increase the normal cost through Canada Post (of about $5,000),” she said. She was also concerned with the low number of voters who cast a ballot in Sandfield during the last regular council election.
“With all the procedures we would have to follow for private mail in balloting and holding the election, the costs would exceed $10,000,” said Ms. Pearson-Trainor. “The Ministry (of Municipal Affairs) has strongly advised us against in-house mail in ballot voting because it is a very complicated process. There are some very good candidates from Sandfield — in fact all the candidates are very qualified. If we proceed with this aspect of selecting someone from Sandfield, I think the residents would be very happy.”
“I don’t understand why all eight candidates for this election were not available last year to run in the (municipal) election,” Councillor Gloria Haner said. “I ran myself because I wanted people to have a choice, and I, like you (Ms. Pearson-Trainor), have faith we can pick someone for Sandfield that would be comfortable to the residents. I would not like to see us in January without the vacant council seat being filled.”
“I never dreamt there would be this many people come forward as candidates,” Adam McDonald said, “but a lot of people like to exercise their right to vote. Sometimes with people it is not a matter of cost, they just want the right to vote for a new councillor. I feel we can’t base our decision on what the costs could be. And the feeling I received from the public’s comments is that they want someone from Sandfield to fill the vacant councillor seat. I will be supporting (Reeve Strong’s) motion that this should be a decision of the people of Sandfield and they should have a democratic right to vote.”
The candidates themselves had a chance to speak to the councillors at the meeting.
“There are four of us from among the candidates who are from Sandfield,” Greg Young said. “I would be proud to run against all the people who have put their names forward or just the four people from Sandfield. There are a lot of seniors who have worked and lived all their lives in Sandfield. I’m sure a lot of them are of the opinion democracy trumps the dollar. These seniors fought in world wars for the democratic right to vote.”
At the request of Councillor Derek Stephens, a recorded vote of the motion was put forward to proceed with a by-election for ward three Sandfield. Councillors Stephens, Pearson-Trainor, MacDonald and Haner voted against the motion, which was defeated with only Councillor McDonald and Reeve Strong voting in favour.
Council went forward to select the candidate to take up the vacant seat. Each councillor selected a candidate from the eight and the candidate receiving the lowest number of votes was taken off the list. This continued until the winner was selected.
In the selection process, councillors Stephens, McDonald and Pearson-Trainor voted in favour of Ted Taylor, while councillors Haner and MacDonald voted in favour of John Finlay. Reeve Strong had selected Laura Wall-Varey.
While Mr. McDonald declined to comment, the rest of the council members said it would be easy to select either Mr. Finlay or Mr. Taylor because of their commitment and involvement in the community.
Mr. Finlay interjected, pointing out he and Mr. Taylor are both neighbours and best friends and there would be no ill will regardless who was chosen.
In the next vote, councillors Stephens, McDonald, Pearson-Trainor and MacDonald voted in favour of Mr. Taylor while councillor Haner and Reeve Strong voted for Mr. Finlay.
“This will be submitted as a recommendation to council and more discussion will take place at our next council meeting,” said Ms. MacDonald.
Reeve Strong put forward the motion to council the recommendation that Mr. Taylor be appointed as ward three Sandfield councillor. This motion will be on the agenda for council’s next regular meeting.