Witless Bay acclamation stokes ongoing battle between pro-environment, pro-development

Fraser Paul of Witless Bay has won another seat on council, without a vote being cast. The woman who challenged his residency in a previous byelection says Municipal Affairs should have stepped in.

Fraser Paul back on council two months after judge ruled he faked residency for byelection requirement

Witless Bay's town council was acclaimed this month — including Fraser Paul, who was found by a judge to have faked his residency in the town for a byelection in 2016. (Submitted by Lulu Hamman Du Toit)

In July, a judge ruled that Witless Bay Deputy Mayor Fraser Paul faked his residency in the town to support his nomination in a 2016 byelection.

Two months later, Paul has won another seat on council, without a vote being cast. And the Witless Bay resident who challenged the legitimacy of his byelection win says the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs should have stepped in.

Seven people for seven spots

Election Day is Tuesday, but seven people — including Paul — put their names forward for seven council spots, so all were acclaimed. There were originally eight candidates, but former councillor Ken Brinston dropped out, meaning there would be no need for an election.

Witless Bay resident Lorna Yard, who brought the civil case against Paul — the latest step in a long-simmering dispute between pro-development and pro-environment factions in the town, as originally reported by the Telegram — said she's disappointed Municipal Affairs didn't do anything after the judge's ruling.

"Residents in this town are baffled," she said.

They have not acknowledged many people of this town who are saying to them, 'Why are you not doing something about this?- Lorna Yard

"Municipal Affairs are silent … We got our decision on July 9. To this day, all my emails have gone unanswered. My requests for meetings have gone unanswered. They have not acknowledged me at all in this, and they have not acknowledged many people of this town who are saying to them, 'Why are you not doing something about this?' They just refuse to acknowledge it."

Yard figures Municipal Affairs hoped the upcoming election would settle the matter; in his July ruling, Justice David Orsborn said the nearness of the election meant the consequences of Paul vacating his seat would be minimal.

Indeed, in an August interview with VOCM, Municipal Affairs Minister Eddie Joyce said he was sure new faces would stand for election. But it turned out an election wouldn't be necessary.

Brinston, the former councillor who withdrew his candidacy, challenged a suggestion by Yard that he withdrew to guarantee Paul a spot. Brinston acknowledged he and Paul have been friends for years, but flatly denied that had anything to do with it.

Municipal Affairs Minister Eddie Joyce said in August he was confident that September's election would help put an end to often acrimonious disputes in the town. But with just seven names put forward for seven spots, an election wasn't necessary. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Brinston had previously resigned from council; he put his name forward this year at a time when not enough candidates had come forward to fill all the seats, he said. Once a few more candidates stepped forward and Witless Bay was guaranteed a full council, he stepped aside.

"When there were two other people that showed an interest, that was it," he said.

He said allegations like those are part of the problems plaguing Witless Bay, which has seen its mayor resign, raucous council meetings, and a plebiscite forced by the provincial government to choose between two disputed development plans.

"They're making it so hard for people to show any interest in council," he said.

Yard said Paul has rectified his residency requirements, and had the right to run again. But she said she doesn't believe he'd have won if there'd been an actual vote. She wonders why Municipal Affairs didn't intervene as it did in Cupids earlier this year, when it removed a councillor following a dispute over a sewer line in the community.

Municipal Affairs investigating

"He was removed from council," she said. "And here we have somebody who went and filed false documents with the town, who filed false affidavits with the Supreme Court of Newfoundland … and now this is the person who is in charge of million-dollar budgets, in charge of development decisions that will affect the town for years to come? It's frightening."

The Department of Municipal Affairs declined a request for an interview, but provided a brief statement that said it began looking into the matter immediately after the judge's decision.

"The department continues to look into whether there was a breach under the Municipal Elections Act," the statement read.

Paul declined a request from CBC for an interview, saying he didn't feel like it.

"Most all of ye are alike. You prints the biggest pile of bullshit," he said. "The media will print it, and the public will read the bullshit."

About the Author

Daniel MacEachern

CBC News

Daniel MacEachern is a St. John's-based reporter and producer with CBC News.