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Councillors weight options for filling Diamond’s seat

City-wide byelection could cost as much as $170,000

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

In the coming weeks, Oshawa city council will need to decide just how to move forward with filling the vacancy left behind by Councillor Nancy Diamond, and the options have some councillors a little weary.

Following Diamond’s sudden death on Feb. 12, councillors are left with two options for filling her seat: either appoint someone to fill the position or hold a byelection to elect a replacement.

The choice has received mixed reviews from members of council.

While he says it’s still too early to start naming names, Councillor John Aker says an appointment should be the way to go.

“It is unfortunate that we have this difficult situation,” he says. “I believe that council will appoint someone to fill this vacancy.”

The cost of a byelection, which according to city clerk Andrew Broewer could be anywhere from $150,000 to $170,000, is also is a contributing factor, Aker says.

The same was said by fellow regional councillor John Neal, who noted the “best thing for the taxpayer” would be to save the dollars through an appointment. Neal also speculated that moving one of Oshawa’s three city councillors into a regional councillor role, and then appointing a new city councillor would be a viable option.

There is precedent in Durham Region for taking this route, as the previous two seats vacated at the Region of Durham have been replaced by appointments from the lower tier municipalities. First, after Pickering regional councillor Jennifer O’Connell was elected as a Liberal MP in the October 2015 federal election, the city opted to appoint city councillor Kevin Ashe to replace her. The same occurred when Lorne Coe was elected as a Progressive Conservative MPP in a 2016 provincial byelection and the Town of Whitby called up Derrick Gleed to fill his seat.

However, Councillor Amy McQuaid-England disagrees with that course of action, noting that the voters should be allowed to decide the replacement. Councillor Diamond received the most votes of anyone running for a regional councillor position in the 2014 election with 15,620.

“In order to respect the voters, I believe the only way to move forward is with a byelection,” she says.

A report summarizing council’s options will be coming forward at council’s next meeting on March 20. Brouwer says he hopes to have the report finalized ahead of the meeting to allow the public a chance to get appraised of the options.

At that same meeting, under the Municipal Act, council must declare the seat vacant, following which they have 60 days to either make an appointment to fill the vacancy or pass the bylaw that will trigger a byelection.

If council chooses an appointment, the only requirement for the chosen person is that they are eligible to vote in the municipality, more specifically they are at least 18 years of age and reside in the city.

If council instead opts for a byelection, while being a scaled down version of a full municipal election, the process would still be carried out city-wide, due to the lack of an established ward system. The city’s election reserve account currently holds approximately $400,000, enough to fund the option. However, the same funds are designated for the 2018 municipal election and any shortfall would need to be made up with an increased 2018 budget contribution.

Brouwer says that if a byelection were to be held, based on the timelines and designated steps, the earliest a vote could occur would be July with the latest date being September.

For Mayor John Henry, he is hesitant to make a decision without seeing Brouwer’s final report.

“I think before anyone can make a decision, you have to have all the costs before you,” he says, noting that with a city-wide byelection the costs, would be unpredictable.