The municipal election saga that began in late October – late September if you count the active campaign period – continues its long existence in which developments arise with speed reminiscent of a sloth, or perhaps molasses in January, if you need a winter weather-related analogy.
When Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin granted a mutually agreed-upon adjournment until Feb. 11 on unsuccessful candidate Chiew Chong’s civil motion to determine and declare a winner of the eighth council seat for which he and fellow unsuccessful candidate Andre Proulx tied with 1,008 votes, he pretty much guaranteed that Thompson residents who can even be bothered anymore will not have a chance to vote in a byelection to fill the vacant seat until perhaps March, since the City of Thompson doesn’t plan to proceed with byelection preparations until Chong’s challenge of the election results is resolved. But it could be even longer, as the Feb. 11 court date is not specified to be a hearing, which could mean that it would be a few weeks later that the merits of the application might finally be ruled upon by a judge, ideally Justice Herbert Rempel, who was in charge of the judicial recount that affirmed in later November that Chong and Proulx did tie and that a byelection would have to be held.
Without knowing the particulars of Chong’s case, which apparently hadn’t even been filed yet as of a court date in Thompson Jan. 14, it is difficult to speculate upon what the odds are of his challenge being successful, though it would likely take strong evidence indeed to prompt the court to step in and declare a winner, which doesn’t look good in a democratic country where people are supposed to have the right to decide who represents them. With the chances of the application being dismissed at at least 50 per cent, however, it seems fairly likely that all this court challenge will do it delay the inevitable, and that Thompsonites will be going back to the polls more than four months after the tie vote that led to the current impasse.
If nothing else, this electoral episode at least indicates that, under certain circumstances, one vote can make a difference. If one more person had voted for Chong or Proulx on Oct. 24 or in the advance polls – or one fewer person had voted for either one – there would not be an open spot on council, there would have been no need for a judicial recount and this current court challenge wouldn’t exist. If nothing else, that would have saved everybody involved a lot of money for travel and lawyers.
That said, there can be certain advantages to a byelection winner joining the council party late. If the group has divided up into roughly equal factions by that time, it would be possible for the newcomer to act as a swing vote with outsized influence on policies because his or her vote is crucial to one side or another achieving their goals. On the other hand, since the seven current councillors and mayor have already divided all the committee chairs and memberships up among themselves, whoever eventually joins them might find thesmelves feeling a little bit rudderless until the next organizational meeting in November.
A previous editorial said Thompsonites should have an idea of who the final member of council would be by the time Groundhog Day rolled around. While that proved overly optimistic, perhaps we will know by St. Patrick’s Day? Louis Riel Day (Feb. 18) does not seem very likely. At most, we might hope to know if there is going to be a byelection or not by then.