MORRISBURG — The resignation of Brock Frost from Cornwall City Council has left a hole that needs to be filled, soon. The three methods that council have to choose from are by-election, pick the next person in line from the 2014 election, or appoint someone. The easiest solution is to pick the next person in line, but that would be wrong. So would just appointing someone. The best and only viable solution to this is a by-election.
With Cornwall choosing their councillors “at-large” the next person in line would be Guy St. Jean (3,621 votes). If St. Jean still lived in Cornwall, that would be an understandable and acceptable choice. St. Jean is no longer in the community so he is not available. The next person after St. Jean is Denis Carr. Carr is a former councillor, leads the “Heart of the City” program and would be a good candidate, but he is not next in line, he is the runner-up to the runner-up. For a position with three years left on the term, that does not fly. He had considerably fewer votes (3,560) than the 10th place councillor (Andre Rivette: 4,048) or the councillor that needs to be replaced (Brock Frost: 4,178). The break in the succession line with St. Jean leaving means none of the other runners-up can step in either.
Appointing someone directly is the wrong choice as well. Giving the 10 people currently around the council table a chance to decide the 11th is undemocratic and an affront to the wishes of those who voted. Remember, like the now-former councillor or not, over 4,000 people chose to elect Brock Frost.
Critics will rail against the cost of a by-election, which may run between $100,000 and $150,000. While it is a significant expense, what is democracy worth? If a Member of Parliament or Provincial Parliament resigned their seat, the voters would not accept the number two candidate filling the rest of the term, regardless of party affiliations. The same applies to municipal politics, minus the party politics of course. If the runners-up from 2014 want to run for the vacant position, then they can pay the nomination fee and compete for the position again.
Cornwall Newswatch Editor Bill Kingston suggested in his editorial that a vote on fluoridation in the drinking water and a vote on returning to a ward-based system could be added to the ballot. This would make the by-election also a plebiscite. It is not a bad idea on returning to the ward system as the “at-large” voting system is a horrible idea for municipal governance and Cornwall’s council is way too large. Fluoridation however, is a contentious issue and while that might bring more people to ballot box, it’s an issue that requires hard evidence from both sides of the issue before something can be voted on. We have seen all too often voters making a choice at the ballot box based on emotion, than science or fact. The timelines for filling the long-standing void at the council table are too tight to deal with the issue in a rational way this time around.
In the end, this is a democracy and municipal governance is the level of government we come into contact most on a day-to-day basis. Leaving the choice of who represents us up to runners-up or council choice is not the right way to fill the void. A by-election is the only fair method to choose.