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By-election to replace New West school trustee could cost $300,000

New Westminster appoints election staff to oversee by-election to fill seat vacated by Dee Beattie
A by-election date has been set to fill a school trustee seat in New Westminster.

It could cost about $300,000 to fill a seat on the school board to replace former trustee Dee Beattie.

At a Nov. 20 meeting, council approved a staff recommendation to appoint Mark Brown as the chief election officer and Kelly Wharton as deputy chief election officer. A by-election will be held on Feb. 3, 2024.

Peter DeJong, the city’s corporate officer, said a by-election must be held within 80 days of appointing the chief election officer.

“So, assuming that's done this afternoon, these are the dates that fell out of that, as a result,” he said. “Staff have been busy preparing, in the background, for this election. It's a pretty short timeframe to pull it all together.”

According to DeJong, the estimated cost of the election is about $300,000, but the city will be working with the school board to try and reduce costs wherever it can.

A staff report states the school board announced on Sept. 26 that Beattie was resigning. In accordance with the School Act, the school board informed the city of Beattie’s resignation, in a letter dated Oct. 25. Council received the letter on Oct. 30, at which time it had 30 days to appoint a chief election officer.

Because of workload challenges, the city opted to contract out the role of chief election officer and to hire a temporary deputy chief election officer, said the report.

Now that the city has approved the appointment of chief election officer and deputy election officer, a timeline for the election has been established:

  • Dec. 19: Start of nomination period
  • Dec. 29: End of nomination period
  • Jan. 6, 2024: Start of campaign period
  • Jan. 8: Declaration of election by voting (date when signs can be displayed under the city’s sign bylaw)
  • Jan. 24 and 31: Advance voting
  • Feb. 3: General voting day

Coun. Paul Minhas expressed concern about the nomination period dates for what he said would be “an expensive” by-election. He asked if the nomination period could be bumped up earlier, possibly to Dec. 10, as it may provide more opportunities to people who may want to run.

“It is such a busy time for a lot of people that go on holidays, have already pre booked at this time,” he said.

DeJong said the proposed dates are essentially set by the Local Government Act, which stipulates the times for each of these periods to begin and end. During the 10-day nomination period, candidates would submit their nomination papers to the election office.

“The campaign period starts Jan. 8, so it's after the Christmas holiday period. That's when signs can go out on people's lawns,” he said. “And then there's couple of advanced voting opportunities, and the election day on Feb. 3. I think it'd be very difficult to try and move it forward.”

Minhas stressed that he’d prefer the nomination period be moved up. He said the lack of flexibility with the dates could make it very challenging for some people.

“I think it's just not fair to the people,” he said.

Jacque Killaweee, acting records and information administrator, said she’s been working on the by-election for the last two months.

“I'm working on these dates, trying to massage them away from Christmas … The province actually gives us a date calculator, and once you plug in the dates that we have, these dates that Peter and I have given you are the legislative dates,” she said. “We can’t move those dates. Those dates are legislated, and there's nothing we can do with them.”

Council unanimously approved the appointment of the election staff.

The by-election will fill a trustee seat formerly held by Beattie, who resigned in September. On June 14, New West resident Sarah Arboleda posted a thread on Twitter suggesting Beattie was using a fake “Allan Whitterstone” Twitter account to troll parents, including herself, and other individuals.

Two days later, Beattie admitted to the allegations and went on medical leave, before resigning in September.