In a break with recent precedent, Township of Rideau Lakes council voted April 3 to hold a by-election for the Bastard & South Burgess ward seat left vacant by the tragic death of Councillor Doug Good, whose truck broke through the ice on Big Rideau Lake last month.
While Mayor Ron Holman had argued in favour of appointing a new member of council – which had occurred with two prior vacancies – the idea did not sit well with all council members, nor with two-time political candidate Paula Banks, who lost the 2014 election by 17 votes.
Prior to debating the issue, the council heard Banks’ concern that “in the past, council has handpicked someone of their choosing, leaving the voters of this ward without any say in the process. This would mean that even though a person made no effort to run in an election, develop a platform, campaign door to door or garner any support of voters, council has been willing to hand them a seat.”
Banks argued that this process “is 100 per cent about what council wants and not what the voters of Bastard and Burgess want,” adding that if this approach were nevertheless adopted, then the pool of potential councillors should be individuals who have run in past elections and already attracted public support. “This would be the only fair choice, as it at least respects in part those people who made an effort to come out and vote in the 2014 election.”
In calling for an election as “the truest test of what people in this ward want,” Banks concluded by reminding council that “democracy is not cheap or easy, but it is something we need to respect, value, and protect. Who this council likes on a personal level and who the voters want to represent them may be two completely different people.”
Echoing those sentiments was Councillor Arie Hoogenboom who, noting that his late colleague, Good, received over 1,200 votes in the last election, questioned why “nine of us would decide his replacement when viable alternatives exist. I know an appointment process is the easiest option, but we shouldn’t always choose the easiest option. We should choose the option that’s fair to the people in that ward.”
Councillor Claire Gunnewiek agreed, explaining that she had been leaning toward an appointment as the “fastest and cheapest” solution, but began changing her mind after speaking with community members about the best way forward. Gunnewiek said she believed that anyone who is elected – not appointed – would feel less beholden to council and more confident that their choices reflect popular will. “I think this is money well spent,” she said. “I don’t want to be responsible for appointing someone here that half of Bastard and South Burgess doesn’t want.”
By a majority vote, the council authorized staff to begin the process of arranging for a by-election, like to be held sometime this summer following a nomination process and a campaign of not more than 45 days.
“I’m very happy with the outcome,” said Banks, an outspoken community member who in past elections has run on a platform calling for greater transparency, affordable housing, economic development, “and giving people a reason to stay in our communities.” Such issues will no doubt inform the upcoming campaign debate, as Banks told Hometown News she’s decided to throw her hat into the ring, hoping that this election she’ll be third time lucky.
CUTLINE: Two-time political candidate and outspoken community member Paula Banks addressed Township of Rideau Lakes council on April 3, arguing that a by-election should be held to replace the late councillor Doug Good.