Dismissed Come By Chance councillors fail in bid to seek re-election

·3 min read
The small Placentia Bay community of Come By Chance, one of the most prosperous incorporated municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, is without any elected leadership following a divisive dispute related to allegations of conflict of interest. (Town of Come by Chance/Facebook - image credit)
The small Placentia Bay community of Come By Chance, one of the most prosperous incorporated municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador, is without any elected leadership following a divisive dispute related to allegations of conflict of interest. (Town of Come by Chance/Facebook - image credit)

An 11th-hour effort by a group of former Come By Chance town councillors to get their names on a ballot for an upcoming municipal election has failed.

And their lawyer says the denial exposes a serious shortcoming in the legislation, and the pace at which matters make their way through the judicial system.

"Ultimately, it appears the [Municipalities Act and the Municipal Election Act] are broken," lawyer Alex Templeton told CBC News.

Templeton represents four former town councillors —  former mayor Keith Best, his son Matt Best, deputy mayor Ralph Slade and Lew Baker — who had their seats vacated in early February after an investigation determined they were in a conflict of interest on a land expropriation matter.

Carol Molloy, who is engaged to Matt Best, was also dismissed last fall after it was determined she did not meet residency requirements.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

All five former municipal leaders have appealed to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, as is their right under the Municipalities Act. However, the first available court hearing will not take place until November — several months after the special June 28 municipal election. The election was approved last month by the provincial government in hopes of filling all seven vacant seats on the town council, with nominations accepted Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Kim Downey resigned in December after taking up residence in another community, while the last member of council, Kathy Paul, quit amid an uproar on Feb. 15 after delivering the report that recommended the seats of her four fellow councillors be vacated.

The affairs of the town have been overseen since mid-March by a senior official with the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

The Municipal Elections Act stipulates that a town councillor who has his or her seat vacated is prohibited from seeking re-election for a period of two years.

However, Templeton wrote Municipal Affairs Minister Krista Lynn Howell last week, suggesting his clients would forgo the appeal process if the minister would waive the two-year ban.

"Without the ability to have their appeal heard in a timely manner before any intervening election, they are being denied their procedural rights," Templeton said Monday.

But Templeton's request was rejected in a response from Howell's deputy minister, Sean Dutton.

"The minister does not have the authority to exercise any discretion with respect to the qualifications necessary for a person to be nominated as a candidate for councillor," Dutton wrote in a letter to Templeton on Friday.

The decision sets the stage for a scenario in which the dismissed councillors may win their appeal, and their council seats reinstated, but their seats may have already been filled by someone else.

"The act does not contemplate that," said Templeton, adding that his clients' rights are being denied by the tight timelines under which a new election must be called, and the inability to begin the appeal process until November.

It is a requirement under the Municipal Election Act that a byelection be held within three months of a council seat being vacated.

"The Municipalities Act provides for this streamlined process where appeals will be heard in a timely manner, but the courts aren't able to provide that," said Templeton. "That's where things seem to break down. It seems to all be predicated on the assumption that appeals will be heard on an urgent basis."

Meanwhile, in order for the town to once again manage its own affairs, a quorum of at least four eligible residents must be nominated on Tuesday. If fewer than four nominations are received, they will be considered councillors-in-waiting until subsequence byelections can be held.

If more than seven nominations are received, the special election will proceed on June 28.

Come By Chance is a town of just over 200 residents, but with a hefty annual operating budget of more than $1.2 million, swelled mainly by grants from major industrial operations in the area.

But the town has been besieged by problems and discontent in recent years, and is still trying to recover from an alleged theft by a former town manager of some $250,000.

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