Last council spot should be filled by Groundhog Day

Prospective councillors Chiew Chong and Andre Proulx didn’t get an early Christmas gift Nov. 30 when a judicial recount five weeks after the Oct. 24 municipal election reaffirmed that yes, indeed, both candidates received 1,008 votes, which means there will be a byelection.

On the bright side, neither of them got a lump of coal, either, since being tied means there will be a byelection to fill the vacant council seat, giving both those candidates, any of the 11 other unsuccessful council candidates, maybe a defeated mayoral candidate or two and anybody else who wants to join the party a chance to put their names forward.

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It won’t be until 2019 that we find out who will be the eighth councillor, however, since the Municipal Councils & School Boards Elections Act says that a nomination period must begin 42 days before the election date and end on the 36th day before it, so we’re looking at a byelection no earlier than mid-January, just the thing to brighten up one of the coldest months of the year.

In some ways, running in a byelection once all the other councillors have been elected is a bit of an advantage. Candidates can position themselves, for examples, as having a good working relationship to those who are already part of the body or, conversely, diametrically opposed to one or more of them. Also, because turnout for byelections is typically lower than it is for general elections (remember that only 37.5 per cent of eligible voters or 2,785 people cast ballots Oct. 24), there’s a pretty good likelihood that the person who wins won't need to surpass or even reach the 1,008-vote threshold that was one vote too few for both Chong and Proulx six weeks ago to make it onto council.

Having a byelection this early into a new council’s mandate, however – the current iteration has met only twice so far – can also pose a problem for candidates seeking election. Nothing of consequence has happened yet, so it isn’t possible to base your campaign on one single issue, unless you want to rely on the same issue you did in the general election (if you ran in it), which didn’t quite strike a chord with enough voters to get you elected the first time around. From that perspective, people who didn’t run for council or any other position in October, since they aren’t tied down to any particular positions and can adapt their campaign strategies on the fly if any hot-button issues come up on the local political scene between now and whenever the next election is held.

Ultimately, however, a candidate’s given stance on issues may not matter as much as some of us might like it to. The reality is that elections are quite often popularity contests and, if you look at the people who were elected in October, it seems that, if you wanted to lay a wager, it might be good enough to just bet on the candidate who has been in Thompson the longest. Those candidates will be the ones who have had the most time to establish social networks and to take advantage of the kind of casual voter who might just think, ‘Well, I went to high school with him/her so what the hey.’”

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