A byelection to decide the sixth and final seat on City of Powell River council will take place this spring. On Tuesday, January 8, in Vancouver, BC Supreme Court justice Joel Groves declared the election of George Doubt be annulled and the office declared vacant.
Doubt is no longer a councillor and the future makeup of council is in question pending the byelection.
According to city clerk and chief electoral officer for the October 2018 general election Chris Jackson, Groves said his hands were tied by the Local Government Act.
“From the city's perspective, not the political part but my part, our hands are tied, too,” said Jackson.
Justice Grove’s decision was the result of a petition brought forward by candidate Al Drummond, who lost to Doubt in the municipal election by two votes.
“It was never about being vindictive or a poor loser or whatever,” said Drummond. “It was about finding irregularities.”
Drummond said when he audited the election results from October, he found questionable ballots.
“I found six irregularities, some of which have been reconciled,” said Drummond. “To be honest, if all six had been reconciled we wouldn't be here. I'd call it a day. I'm not going to argue the results of a legitimate election but these irregularities were pointed out to the chief electoral officer and the city decided, ‘we don't care about that we're going to fight this.’”
According to a media release from City of Powell River, Groves found that four people may have been ineligible to vote. That might have been the difference between Doubt’s 1,766 votes and Drummond’s 1,764.
The media release stated that “because there were only two votes separating Mr. Doubt and Mr. Drummond, the court concluded that the number of ineligible voters may have materially affected the result of Mr. Doubt's election. In such cases, the court will declare the election invalid.”
Jackson said the ruling was based on Supreme Court of Canada precedent, where if the number of questionable ballots exceeds the difference in the win then the results of the election are materially affected and a byelection must be held.
Groves acknowledged in his decision that the candidates, voters and election officials acted in good faith and that there was no evidence or suggestion of anyone purposely contravening the Local Government Act.
Doubt has been removed from office and the sixth seat on council is vacant pending the byelection to be held in the spring, according to Jackson, who said he is aiming for sometime in April.
Doubt said he was disappointed but understood Groves’ decision and appreciated an opportunity to speak to the court.
“I thought that the election was valid and that there hadn't been sufficient proof, in my mind, that the four addresses that were identified were not qualified to vote,” said Doubt. “There isn't sufficient evidence that they weren't qualified to vote. They may have been qualified to vote.”
Doubt argued that the four votes did not make sufficient enough difference to change the outcome of the election and talked about the implications to the city and qathet Regional District of having to go through a new election at the present time.
Doubt was one of two municipal directors on the regional district board, the other being CaroleAnn Leishman. As chair of the city finance committee, he was in the budget process.
Jackson said he will be asking council for between $50,000 to $60,000 to conduct the byelection, which is approximately the same amount as the general municipal election on October 22.
Drummond said he knows there will be some public backlash.
“My answer to that would be: what price would you put on democracy?” said Drummond. “Is it okay to have people vote who are ineligible? Is it okay for people to stand up and swear an oath that they're allowed to vote when they're not entitled to and they clearly know they're not? What is the price of democracy?”
Both Doubt and Drummond said they will run in the byelection. It is open to any other candidate.