Crossfield residents are gearing up for another trip to the polls, less than six months after their last byelection.
Following a decision by Crossfield Town council on Feb. 16, the municipality will hold a byelection on May 10 to fill the vacancy on council left by Coun. Devon Helfrich, who passed away in January.
The Town’s most recent byelection was held in October 2020, when Couns. Justin Gustafson and Kim Harris were elected to council. That byelection was triggered in the summer of 2020 by the resignations of Liz Grace and Beth Gabriel.
The next municipal election in Alberta is slated for Oct. 18 this year, meaning whoever is elected in the upcoming byelection will serve less than half a year before Crossfield voters return to the polls yet again.
With the timing of the current vacancy, the decision whether to hold a byelection or apply for an exemption from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has been a point of discussion in recent Town council meetings.
Section 162 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) requires a byelection to be held if there is a vacancy on council, unless the vacancy occurs within six months of a general election or, in the case there are six or more council members, within 18 months of a general election.
“As the vacancy has occurred more than six months before a general election and council consists of four councillors when the vacancy occurred, council is required to hold a by-election within 120 days of the vacancy – therefore no later than May 11, 2021 as outlined within the MGA,” stated a Town staff report.
At the Jan. 19 council meeting, Mayor Jo Tennant moved for the Town to hold a byelection on March 8. The motion failed in a 2-2 tie – Tennant and Deputy Mayor Glenn Price voted in favour, while Couns. Gustafson and Harris voted in opposition.
At the following meeting on Feb. 2, Harris moved for administration to proceed with an online survey to gauge resident interest in holding a byelection.
From Feb. 1 to 12, the Town conducted a poll on its website, asking residents if they would be in favour of holding another byelection. After 12 days, 135 Crossfielders voted in the poll, with 78 in favour and 57 against.
Reached Feb. 18, Tennant speculated there are a few reasons some residents are not in favour of holding a byelection.
“I think finances are part of it, and some of it is there is some fatigue, as we just had a byelection,” she said. “To have another one, who would be interested? COVID makes it hard to go out and do your campaigning. I think there are a lot of things – the cost and the timing of it.”
According to the Town’s staff report, the October 2020 byelection cost the municipality $3,500. Costs included advertising, ballot printing, election supplies, hiring three polling clerks and paying for audio and visual equipment to broadcast the all-candidates meeting.
The staff report in the Feb. 16 meeting agenda package indicated the May 10 byelection would cost the Town approximately $2,900, though it depends how many people decide to run.
With four members currently on council, Tennant said she is concerned about the possibility of split votes, which results in a motion being defeated. She said having an odd number of councillors would be more democratic.
“Truly, if a motion is defeated, the democratic process is that it’s defeated by majority, not by a tie,” she said. “For example, I made the motion to have the byelection before we did the poll and that motion was defeated by a tie vote. That’s not really a clear indication, and I think stuff can sometimes get stalled that way. My push was to have it right away. I was fine with doing a poll as well, and now we’re going to go ahead with the byelection.”
According to the Town, nominations to run in the byelection are now open and will remain so until noon on April 12. For more information, visit crossfieldalberta.com/p/2021-council-by-election
Tennant said she hopes there will be interest from community members in running in the byelection.
“I haven’t really received confirmation of multiple people doing it, but I’ve certainly had people reach out to me who had further questions and showed interest,” she said. “I guess we’ll find out.”