Lytton to elect 2 new village councillors this weekend as community continues to rebuild

·3 min read
Burnt homes and vehicles are pictured in Lytton, B.C., nearly eight months after a wildfire swept through the village. As the community continues to rebuild, residents are heading to the polls Saturday to elect two new village councillors. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)
Burnt homes and vehicles are pictured in Lytton, B.C., nearly eight months after a wildfire swept through the village. As the community continues to rebuild, residents are heading to the polls Saturday to elect two new village councillors. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit)

As the village of Lytton, B.C. works to restore the community after it was all but destroyed by a wildfire last summer, residents will head to the polls to select two new leaders this weekend.

Typically, Lytton has four councillors along with a mayor. In early 2021, long-term councillor Tiffany Callawaert stepped down and an election to fill her spot was scheduled for August 7. Nominations were to be submitted by July 2, but when the village was evacuated due to the wildfire just two days before the deadline, the byelection was put on hold.

Later in December, councillor Robert Leitch resigned after comments he made on social media were criticized for amplifying conspiracy theories.

That left the community, home to about 249 people, with only three elected leaders making big decisions about the village's future.

"The workload is absolutely overwhelming," area MLA Jackie Tegart said.

"As you go through these kinds of disasters, which I've seen throughout my riding, there is a new importance for leadership at the local level."

Edith Loring Kuhanga/Facebook
Edith Loring Kuhanga/Facebook

Three people are vying for the two spots: Melissa Michell and Ross Urquhart of Lytton, and Ernie Wagner from Agassiz, more than 100 kilometres south of Lytton. Voters are required to live in the community but those running for office are not.

Although Wagner lives out of town, he says he spent several years in Lytton and has relatives and friends in the village.

"I just thought I could help out seeing they were short on staff and really my heart is to get Lytton built as fast as possible and add some character to the town when it's all done," he said.

Wagner, a retired CN Rail employee, says the longer the village waits to rebuild, the higher the cost to residents and insurance companies.

Melissa Michell said she was encouraged by loved ones to run for council. She is the finance manager for the Kanaka Indian Band, according to her LinkedIn page, and said she'd like more transparency from council on plans moving forward.

"There's been a lot happening that the residents and property owners don't want," she said, later explaining that dozens of people she's spoken with have concerns about rebuild plans, which include a new energy system that she says wasn't well-researched and is too expensive.

"It seems like there's no voice for us on the council at this time."

CBC tried several times to contact Ross Urquhart, but were unable to connect with him by deadline.

According to his website, titled Old Fat Bald and Grumpy, Urquhart has degrees in political science and environmental policy. He has authored two books, including a collection of short stories about the Stein Valley, and one on philosophy. He has also had work published by the Georgia Straight from 2012 to 2015, according to the site.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Regardless of who is elected to council on Saturday, MLA Tegart said she's looking forward to seeing a full roster of council members.

"It's absolutely critical," she said.

"As you watch the work that needs to be done and the decisions that need to be made, you realize how important leadership at a local level is."

Benoit Ferradini/CBC Radio-Canada
Benoit Ferradini/CBC Radio-Canada

A civic election is scheduled for the fall, but Tegart said it's important to have those decision-makers in place now.

Advanced voting took place on April 20 and mail-in ballots were made available.

Voting day is on Saturday, April 30 at the Kumsheen ShchEma-meet School. Residents can still vote if their homes were lost in the fire. They'll need to bring government-issued identification, including one piece that shows their residence in Lytton, and one with their name and signature, chief election officer Bev Kennedy said.

Non-residents who own property in Lytton can also vote.

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