Election terms vote gets crazy 

UBCM delegates to decide Thursday whether local governments will be elected to four-year terms

In a room full of people who run meetings for a living, this one certainly went sideways.

The vote to extend municipal term elections ended in confusion among the delegates of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention Wednesday. What could have been a simple vote for or against extending local government election terms from three years to four resulted in a ballot vote that was deferred until Thursday morning.

Sea to Sky Ballroom at the Whistler Conference Centre held over 400 delegates from around B.C. to vote on a number of resolutions Thursday, the most contentious being the proposed four-year election term.

The issue of four-year municipal terms has come up several times in the past at UBCM meetings and has always been defeated. It's a hotly contested issue that divided the delegates almost in half Wednesday, with those for and those against citing essentially the same arguments every time: those for the extension believe it provides more stability for the community and allows more time for councillors to follow through on projects and issues; those against believe that four years is too long a timeframe for people to commit to.

Whistler Councillor Ralph Forsyth received much applause for his argument that globally, timelines are getting shorter and more condensed. Four-year terms, for younger people in particular, are antithetical to that trend.

"When we place these barriers in front of young people, it's instant. Timelines are getting shorter for young people and four year terms are much too long for them," he said.

Kelowna Councillor Angela Reid was for the term extension, saying that she doesn't feel that current election terms don't mesh with five- and 10-year capital plans at the provincial level. Three years just isn't enough time to see things through.

"I want to see people elected to local governments that have a commitment, a long term commitment, and have the ability to see things through," said Reid.

There was little order to the room. A majority of the delegates were seated in the centre of the ballroom but there were also people at the back of the hall, sitting at tables and standing around them, leaning against the walls. Media lined the north wall.

About 15 people spoke, with many more waiting to speak, when the question was called to put the motion to a vote. With most UBCM resolution votes, the number of people for and against is obvious enough that the motion will pass or fail without a proper tally of the votes. This time, however, the votes were too close to call. Adding to the confusion were the people standing at the back of the hall. The UBCM chair ruled that a second vote was necessary so a proper tally could be taken.

There was a period of about 15 minutes as scrutineers walked up down the room, counting by hand the number of delegates standing up with yellow cards in their hands, both for the motion to extend, and then for those against the motion.

The tally was: 168 delegates for the extension to four years and 244 against it. Director Heath Slee, second vice-president of the UBCM, ruled that the motion was defeated - until one member of the delegation pointed out, rather excitedly, that the vote shouldn't count because a number of people had left the room while the votes were still being tallied.

Indeed, there were a number of bodies coming and going from the gigantic wooden doors at the back of the hall.

"It's not fair to not have this vote," said a vexed Andrew Shadrach, director of Electoral Area D of the Central Kootenay Regional District. "Everyone who voted on this question should get to vote again... This could rip this organization apart. It's not fair!"

Chattering bred by uncertainty dominated the room while the UBCM executives at the head of the room decided what should be done.

Slee finally said that a third vote would take place, with all the doors at the back of the room secured until the numbers had been tallied. UBCM staffers went outside the conference room to collect as many people who had left as they could.

Finally, after more deliberations and votes on staying the chair's decision, Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd asked to defer Wednesday's vote to a ballot vote today (Sept. 30). More than 50 delegates agreed, the necessary amount according to Robert's Rules of Order. The ballot vote was held 8-9 a.m. Thursday morning at the Whistler Conference Centre. Pique will have the results of that decision available online.

A resolution was passed later Wednesday that would change municipal election dates from November to the third Saturday of October. The original resolution was amended so that councils will take office a month earlier, in November instead of December.




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