A man dressed as a jug of Kool-Aid is the only reason there's a mayor's race in Terrace, B.C.

Election day may be more than a month away, but some communities in northern B.C. already know who will be leading them for the next four years.

Few challengers are taking on incumbents in northern B.C. cities, leading to fears of low voter turnout

Comedian Danny 'Kool Aid Man' Nunes is the sole person running against Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc in the upcoming election. Nunes started his campaign in the hopes of drumming up more interest in municipal elections in B.C.'s northwest. (Danny Nunes)

When comedian Danny Nunes decided to run for mayor of Terrace, B.C. dressed as the "Kool-Aid Man," he thought his Facebook videos and live appearances might help drum up interest in October's municipal election.

Now Nunes finds himself the sole person challenging incumbent Carol Leclerc to lead a city he doesn't even live in.

"No one cares," Nunes wrote about the election in a public Facebook post.

Terrace, at least, will have a mayor's race. Prince Rupert, Fort St. John and Quesnel all have incumbents set to be elected by acclamation, while the mayors of northern B.C.'s remaining two cities  — Prince George and Dawson Creek — are facing off against last-minute candidates with no previous political experience. 

That's leading to fears among political watchers in the province's top half that voter turnout on Oct. 20 could hit historic lows.

"It certainly is a challenge," said outgoing Prince George Coun. Jillian Merrick. "The reality is, people running bring their networks to the polls."

"But also, it just makes elections less interesting ... And there won't be any voter turnout."

Jillian Merrick said she is stepping away from politics in part to achieve a work-life balance, and worries B.C.'s new four-year terms for municipal politics are acting as a barrier to getting more people to run for office. (City of Prince George)

Long terms, low pay a barrier

It's not just mayor's jobs that are seeing fewer candidates than previous years — the pool for council in many communities is also reduced. For example, Prince George has 13 candidates vying for nine positions, compared to 25 in 2014 and 18 in 2011 and 2008.

Merrick said the new four-year terms for municipal positions, which came into effect in 2014, may be one reason for the decline.

"It certainly influenced my decision to leave [politics]," she said. "Four years of intense community service is a big commitment."

In Masset, where just two people are running to fill four council positions, outgoing Mayor Andrew Merilees said the low pay and long hours are also a problem.

"It takes a lot out of you," he said. "It's not a job that comes with a big pay cheque, and it does take a lot of your time."

Calls for diversity, younger candidates

In Dawson Creek, outgoing Coun. Mark Rogers said he was so dismayed by the lack of new candidates running for office that he decided not to run for re-election in the hopes it would encourage new faces to step forward.

"Dawson Creek doesn't need any more old white guys on council," the 57-year-old told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk Friday morning.

"I believe city council should be representative of the community it serves ... Our current council doesn't reflect that."

A Dawson Creek city councillor has decided not to run for re-election in part because there are too many of what he calls "old white guys" in politics. Mark Rogers speaks with Carolina de Ryk. 7:02

Last-minute additions

Following Rogers' announcement he wouldn't be running, several new names were added to the ballot sheet in Dawson Creek, including 24-year-old Trenten Laarz for mayor.

Laarz told CBC he decided to sign up for the mayor's race after seeing that incumbent Dale Bumstead stood to be acclaimed for the second time in a row.

"There should be a little bit of a competition," he said.

The sole challenger taking on Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall is also a political neophyte.

Prince George mayor Lyn Hall is only facing one challenger in the Oct. 20 election, 65-year-old Willy Ens. (Wil Fundal/CBC)

While the three previous mayor's races in the city have seen experienced politicians competing for the job, Hall appeared to have no competition until Friday afternoon when 65-year-old Willy Ens put his name forward.

Ens, who previously worked as a plumber and pipefitter, said one of the main factors in his decision to run was difficulty finding sources of income. 

But he also said he believes his experience in the construction industry will make him well-equipped to manage a number of major construction projects coming online in the city, including the building of a new pool and firehall.

If we're only getting less than 30 per cent voter turnout, nobody who's elected should fool themselves into thinking that they have broad support."- Jillian Merrick

Rogers said there is no reason a last-minute candidate can't be viable.

"I [put my name in] on the very last day four years ago," he said. 

Merrick, however, cautioned anyone from thinking that a lack of competition for political positions means people are satisfied with the situation at city hall.

"If we're only getting less than 30 per cent voter turnout, nobody who's elected should fool themselves into thinking that they have broad support," she said.

There's growing concern there will be a lack of turnout in October's municipal elections-- and in many communities, not many people are running for mayor or council positions, either. Carolina de Ryk speaks with outgoing councillors Jill Merrick and Albert Koehler about the issues. 12:54

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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George.

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