P.E.I. communities join forces to meet new elections requirements
All municipalities now have to follow one set of guidelines under the Municipal Government Act
In her office in a community centre basement, Sarah Weeks organizes the municipal affairs for Hunter River, P.E.I. Weeks has served as the municipality's CAO for about six years.
Recently, she also became CAO for Darlington and North Wiltshire. And with municipal elections approaching across the Island, she has also stepped in to oversee elections for nearby Breadalbane and Hampshire — serving as municipal elections officer for a total of five communities.
"With me being in a community close by, it just made sense to enlist me," Weeks said.
Small communities throughout P.E.I. are taking on larger workloads than usual leading up to this year's elections, thanks to new rules laid out in the province's Municipal Government Act (MGA).
'A lot for a small community'
The MGA, which came into effect in December 2017, outlines elections procedures which every municipality on P.E.I. must follow. One of the key requirements was for every municipality to pass an election bylaw by Sept. 5.
For some communities, that meant holding a council meeting in the summer — when council doesn't usually meet — to get it done.
That's what happened in the communities of Afton, Bonshaw, and Meadowbank. All three elections are being overseen by Bev McIsaac, who is the CAO for Afton.
Like Weeks, she stepped in to help other communities in light of the changes.
"It seems like a lot for a small community," McIsaac said.
Joint ads, office hours
McIsaac says the main reaction she's heard from people in her communities to the changes to elections procedures has been concern about the cost.
Communities that have pooled resources are saving money where they can.
Normally we had enough seats for the people who were willing to do it, and that was about it.- Sarah Weeks, Hunter River CAO
The MGA states that municipalities must publish a notice prior to nominations opening. By publishing joint newspaper advertisements, communities were able to split the cost, which Weeks said was about $300 for a single ad.
Both Weeks' and McIsaac's communities are also holding joint office hours during the nomination period.
Costs could add up
If communities receive nominations from more people than there are available seats, then all-day elections will be held on Nov. 5.
That's a big change for small communities like Hunter River, which has a population of around 300 people. In the past the community has selected its council members during an annual meeting — taking nominations from the floor, and voting by a show of hands.
"Basically it was some residents just saying 'oh I think so and so would be great for the job', and taking that on. In Hunter River we never really had a formal election. Normally we had enough seats for the people who were willing to do it, and that was about it," Weeks said.
If any of the communities do have to host elections, that will also add to their costs.
"That's going to mean appointing a returning officer and poll clerks, and renting a facility to have the election at. So there will be some costs there," McIsaac said.
'May be a good thing'
For Weeks and McIsaac, the new rules mean extra hours of work for them. And given the small sizes of the communities they're working for, they aren't sure yet if the new system is worth the cost.
But Weeks says she'll be interested to see if the new system prompts more people to seek nomination — since they'll have more time to consider if they want to be involved.
"It may be a good thing. It will remain to be seen."