Council vacancies pile up with no clear municipal vote date
Province yet to say when elections previously set for May 2020 will take place
With municipal council vacancies starting to pile up, there's still no definitive word from the provincial government when it will reschedule general elections delayed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In recent weeks, mayors in Edmundston, Bathurst and Sackville have announced they will resign this fall after staying on longer than expected. Four-year terms were extended by up to a year when the province cancelled the May 2020 vote.
Other council seats will soon be vacated by councillors elected as MLAs in Monday's provincial election like Daniel Allain in Dieppe, Bill Hogan in Woodstock and Greg Turner in Moncton.
Margot Cragg, executive director of the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick, said some council members who stayed on when their terms were extended are starting to resign for personal and professional reasons.
"What that means is that the people who are left are playing with a pretty short bench," Cragg said. "And there are some communities where that means increased workload for the folks who are still serving in council."
Campobello Island is now run by a provincially appointed supervisor because its council hasn't been able to make quorum since May.
"So for all the folks who are in in overtime and serving that unexpected fifth year, at the very least, they need to know when the municipal elections are going to be held so that they have a bit more certainty about what's going to be happening and how much longer they're going to have to step up to the plate," Cragg said.
Legislation passed in March left it to the provincial cabinet to set a new general municipal election date, saying it must happen sometime on or before May 10, 2021.
The same bill says that date must be set before byelections can be called to fill any vacancies in the 12 months leading up to the general election. That's normally a period when byelections can't take place. Without a date set, byelections can't be held to fill vacancies left by mayors and councillors who are leaving office.
Elections New Brunswick says it hasn't been given a date for the elections. The agency administers the municipal election in communities across the province.
Jean Bertin, a spokesperson for the province, confirmed Thursday that no date has been set.
A March 2020 news release about the law delaying the May vote suggests the votes shouldn't happen in the fall because that's when municipalities set their budgets.
"Subsequently, elections are expected to be held in May 2021 or sooner depending upon how quickly the outbreak subsides," the news release from March states.
Since then, the number of people with COVID-19 has been relatively low after peaking at 72 in early April.
Premier Blaine Higgs during the election campaign raised the idea of holding the municipal votes this fall, saying the provincial campaign shows how elections can take place safely.
"One could even say they could be held this fall, depending where things are, but probably most municipalities would like to go next spring," Higgs said during the CTV News leaders roundtable on Sept. 10.
In his victory speech Monday, Higgs said New Brunswick proved elections can take place during a pandemic.
Cragg said some municipalities that are close to not having enough councillors to make quorum want the election held as soon as possible, though said it would be problematic in late fall because of the municipal budget process.
The uncertainty has left candidates who announced a run for office in limbo.
Kim Poffenroth, chief electoral officer with Elections New Brunswick, said she'd prefer a spring vote to allow Elections New Brunswick to analyze what worked and didn't in the provincial campaign to prepare for the municipal vote.
"I would like to have a little bit of breathing room," Poffenroth told Information Morning Moncton.
Paul Harpelle, a spokesperson for Elections New Brunswick, said the time would be helpful to organize materials required to run the votes, restock personal protective supplies and secure space for returning offices and polling stations.
With files from Information Morning Moncton