No more two-year vacancies for West Nipissing council

·3 min read

West Nipissing council is finalizing a policy to ensure vacant council seats are filled quickly and efficiently, in accordance with the rules of the Municipal Act. The policy – set to become official at council’s next meeting – is a response to the last council, which took about two years to fill a vacant seat after Jérémy Seguin resigned.

“We saw what the worst-case scenario can be during the last term of council,” said West Nipissing’s Mayor, Kathleen Thorne Rochon. This new policy will allow council “to avoid the worst-case scenario.”

See: Minister declares West Nipissing council shall fill empty seat

Since Amalgamation in 1999, the Municipality has only had to fill four vacated seats. Marcel Noel left in 2003. A by-election was held, and Don Fortin stepped in to represent Ward 3. Marc Serré’s seat was open in 2007, and Jamie Restoule was appointed to represent Ward 4.

John Dobbs' Ward 8 seat was vacated in 2009 and council appointed Gérald Miron to the role. In 2020 Jérémy Seguin resigned his Ward 7 seat. As two years passed, the Minister of Municipal Affairs stepped in to ensure the role was filled.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has rules governing what municipalities do if a seat becomes vacant. The Municipal Act, 2001, outlines those rules. After a vacancy is declared, council has 60 days to appoint a person to the position or pass a by-law allowing for a by-election.

If a vacancy occurs within 90 days before voting day of a regular election, the municipality is not required to fill the vacancy.

Municipal councils often appoint a councillor to the role from applicants or appoint a candidate who ran in the previous election, but didn’t receive enough votes to earn a place at the table. Say there are five councillors, the sixth in line would be appointed.

By-elections are rare and are more likely to occur closer to the beginning of term. Nearing the end of term, appointments are more common. By-elections are costly. West Nipissing municipal staff estimate it costs between $6,500 and $8,000 to host one. It is the “lengthiest and most expense option,” and council rejected the option.

Instead, it opted for appointment by application, which carries “minimal cost.” Constituents can apply for the position, interview before council, and council will appoint. After nearly two years, this is how West Nipissing’s previous council filled its vacant seat – with help from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

See: West Nipissing council completes itself, despite itself

That council couldn’t decide by which means to appoint a new councillor. Each time council voted on the process it would deadlock.

Mayor Thorne Rochon remembered this well, and asked staff to include “language surrounding the method of breaking a tie.” The draft policy is underway and will return to council’s next meeting on May 16 for a vote.

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,