When city council meets this Wednesday, one of their first orders of business will be to decide how to fill the Cumberland Ward seat left vacant by Stephen Blais who resigned earlier this month after winning the provincial by-election in Orléans.
According to the Ontario Municipal Act, the councillors have two options: they can either call a by-election which must be held within 60 days, or they can appoint someone to fill the seat through an application process.
With the City caught up in the global COVID-19 pandemic, a by-election is almost certainly out of the question. That leaves filling the seat by appointment.
The appointment process is not unlike the hiring process for job placement. Anyone can apply for the job which pays $105,627.96 a year. Council must first establish a sub-committee whose job it will be to vet the applications and create a shortlist of two or three candidates. The entire city council must then pick one of the candidates to fill the seat. They can do so after having the candidates appear before them, or they can make their decision without hearing from them at all.
It’s by far the most undemocratic way to fill a political seat because the residents of Cumberland will have absolutely no say in the matter and will not have a say until the next municipal election in 2020. That’s because of a clause in the Ontario Municipal Act which states, “A person appointed or elected to fill a vacancy… shall hold office for the remainder of the term of the person he or she replaced."
The clause appears pretty absolute. But these are extraordinary times. According to a survey on the Facebook page, Navan Helping Hands, when presented with the option of either appointing someone temporarily until a by-election can be held, or appointing someone for the remainder of the term, a vast majority of the respondents favoured a temporary appointment. Unfortunately, the Municipal Act does not allow for a temporary appointment.
So, what to do. The question will no doubt be put to City Solicitor Rick O’Connor. If he goes by the book, he will say that the appointee must serve the remainder of the term.
Given the current situation, the city could pass a motion directing O’Connor to consult with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs on whether or not they could make a temporary appointment until after the COVID-19 threat passes. The motion could contain wording to the effect that if the province says “no”, the appointment process could proceed to prevent any delays.
But if the province allows for a temporary appointment, council could proceed with the process with one caveat – whoever is appointed cannot run in the by-election. Doing so would give the person a distinct advantage against any rivals and should not be permitted.
Whatever council decides, you can bet the anyone interested in replacing Blais is already updating their resumes, if they haven’t already.
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