Coquitlam residents will be heading back to the polls possibly as early as this fall for a byelection to replace former city councillors Linda Reimer and Selina Robinson.
Coquitlam city council voted 4-2 on the byelection, with Mayor Richard Stewart and Coun. Mae Reid voting against. The two argued that the money saved by going forward with two vacant positions and historically low voter turnout in byelections outweighs the need for two more councillors before the next scheduled municipal election in 2014.
"Here I am one of the strongest supporters of democracy, I absolutely believe in democratic principles, and here I am struggling with this one enormously," Stewart said, adding he defends the two's rights to run for another office. "I want those council members to feel like they should be able to go up to higher levels of government."
Councillors should have the option to move up to provincial or federal levels as they can then bring their experience and voice from local government with them, he said. Coun. Brent Asmundson did not agree with the mayor. "It's the cost of democracy. People voted in the regular election for eight councillors, one mayor, that was their expectation and I think we should fulfill that part," he said. "Running for council you make a commitment to the electorate that's going to vote for you."
Asmundson did not share the mayor's excitement of having former colleagues move up to provincial government, as he believes it won't change how things are run at Coquitlam City Hall.
"Having people move up has happened from municipal government to federal and provincial government and we haven't gotten a lot further in our increase of eight per cent or on our issues," he said.
Couns. Terry O'Neill and Neal Nicholson mirrored Asmundson's sentiments. Quoting Oscar Wilde, O'Neill said "Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."
Nicholson said the byelection isn't going to hurt taxpayers, as it's already budgeted for.
"I want us to do what's right and accept the resignations of the councillors who've left and move forward into a byelection," he said.
Coun. Lou Sekora said Reimer and Robinson should have resigned the day after they were elected.
"They should have known better," he said.
Reid defended their hesitation, as she feels they were being considerate of both the taxpayer and council and leaving it in the city's hands to choose what it feels is best.
The cost of a byelection is estimated to be $150,000. Councillor salary and benefits per year is $53,836. If no byelection were to happen, the city would save $311,508.
However, that forces more work on the seven remaining elected officials, while there is a cash reserve of $639,000 to cover the cost of such an election. Both Reimer and Robinson have not been paid since the spring.
Reimer and Robinson have served as councillors in Coquitlam since 2008. In May, Reimer was elected MLA for Port Moody-Coquitlam and Robinson for Coquitlam-Maillardville.
Since the provincial election, both councillors have been on unpaid leave. They had requested a leave of absence until Jan. 3, 2014 to allow city council to bypass the need for a byelection. The next municipal election will take place later in 2014.
City staff stated a byelection will most likely happen in October, although no official date has been set as of yet.
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