Hantsport council calls byelection

Ashley Thompson athompson@hantsjournal.ca
Published on August 5, 2014

Longtime Hantsport resident Phil Zamora intends to run in the upcoming by-election in the Haven of Hospitality.

©Ashley Thompson

The decision was far from unanimous, but a byelection will take place to fill a vacant council seat in Hantsport.

Shannon Cunningham's term ended Aug. 4. Cunningham, a longtime Hantsport resident now living in the Halifax area, served on town council for six years.

On Aug. 5, town council debated the merits of calling a byelection in light of the fact that dissolution could occur by April 1, 2015 if the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board approves the application submitted by the Town of Hantsport in May.

Stressing that time is of the essence, CAO Rob Frost asked council to decide if a byelection would be necessary considering the proposed dissolution date is less than a year away.

If council opted to call a byelection that same evening, Frost said advanced polling could occur by Oct. 9 and Oct. 14, and the ordinary polling day would be Oct. 18. On the other hand, council legally has four weeks to call a byelection in the event of a vacancy.

It became clear early in the discussion the remaining six council members had differing opinions on whether or not the byelection should be called immediately. Some were ready to call it, others wanted to turn to the Department of Municipal Affairs to seek advice about their unique situation first.

Frost recommended the group reach out to the provincial government for guidance on how to address the vacancy while in the midst of a dissolution process.

Coun. Rob Frederick expressed concern that the newly elected official would not have time to be brought up to speed before becoming a part of important discussions about Hantsport's future. He also noted that the Town of Hantsport does not have a line item in the budget to cover the byelection, which is expected to cost about $2,150.

Coun. Margot Bureaux welcomed the idea of bringing someone new to the table, calling the byelection an appropriate way to move forward based on the fact that dissolution by April 2015 is not a guarantee at this point.

“If we go beyond that then we will have a full complement,” she said.

Coun. Paul Morton tabled a motion calling on council to write a letter to the Department of Municipal Affairs to explain the Hantsport's predicament, and request advice on how to proceed.

Morton's motion, supported by Frederick and Mayor Robbie Zwicker, was defeated by a tied vote of three to three. Bureaux, Deputy Mayor Harold Bulger and Coun. Faye Hill opposed.

“That's why you need another council seat,” said Hill, slapping her hand on the table following the vote.

It appeared the next motion Bureaux put forth asking council to call the byelection immediately was destined to fail. However, Zwicker offered a vote of support that saw the motion pass four to two with only Morton and Frederick opposing.

Without unforeseen delays in the election process, the new councillor will be sworn in Nov. 4.

Phil Zamora hopes to be that new councillor.

Zamora, a member of the Think Hantsport citizen group opposing dissolution, announced his intent to run in the byelection after the council meeting.

“The Town of Hantsport has enjoyed nearly 125 years of full authority to manage property and commercial tax rates, business opportunities, recreation, policing, fire protection facilities, emergency management, water services – to name a few things,” said Zamora, a retired Department of Fisheries and Oceans employee.

“If the town dissolves into a municipality, this authority will be given to a group of people who have much larger and different priorities than those of Hantsport citizens.”

Zamora said his priority on council would be to turn to encourage more consultation with the public.

“Citizens are much more informed than in the past,” he said, reading a prepared statement. “If given enough time to actually consult with them, they can enhance the process of working together to shape the future for prosperity and growth in the Town of Hantsport.”