“As a councilmember, I have a right to vote the way I chose to vote. I chose to vote for the next person who ran,” Amaranth Councilmember Heather Foster said after exhausting all other options that were presented by Amaranth CAO Nicole Martin to fill the vacant Amaranth council seat after Mark Tijssen resigned in September, whose resignation was accepted by councilmembers at the October 7th meeting.
It was clear at the beginning that Councillor Foster was not going to get her way, as this was the first alternative that Amaranth Township’s council was unable to agree on. The motion to nominate a runner-up candidate from the 2018 election was defeated in a 2-2 vote, with Deputy Mayor Chris Gerrits and Councillor Gail Little voting against it. “If it was right after, that would be one thing, but it’s been two years,” Deputy Mayor Gerrits stated. He explained that he thought the option to advertise for applicants, similar to what Grand Valley and Shelburne did, was the best way to proceed. Gerrits asked CAO Martin to confirm that candidates from the previous election could be nominated, who confirmed that this was allowed.
Candidates who ran in Amaranth’s 2018 election for positions as councilmembers were Susan Graham and Philippe Caine, who garnered 604 and 345 votes respectively. Mayor Currie wanted confirmation that the person who obtained the most votes would be the one who was nominated to the vacant council seat, implying that he desired Susan Graham join council. As previously indicated by CAO Martin, this would still be possible if the option to proceed with an open nomination process was selected.
The next alternative proposed was to proceed with a byelection. Heather Foster suggested that this could cost the township approximately $30,000. Council unanimously voted against this. That being said, when it comes to filling the vacant Amaranth council seat, this would be the only instance of agreement.
The final option that was voted upon by council, which was the one recommended by CAO Martin, was to proceed with an open nomination process. If chosen, this would have allowed council to move forward with ensuring that Amaranth’s taxpayers would receive full representation and there would still be a possibility for Graham to be nominated. That did not happen though, as this motion was defeated in another 2-2 vote when Councillor Foster and Mayor Currie voted against it, resulting in a second stalemate.
Mayor Currie said he was against open nominations as council would be saying “four people have a better opinion, of how to select somebody, than 604 people.” It is important to note that the 604 people Currie referred to is derived from the voting numbers in the 2018 election. It is not known how many of these people still reside in Amaranth or how many current residents that are now eligible to vote would feel represented by that decision today. Whether or not nominations are open, a byelection would be the only one of the three alternatives presented that would prevent four people from deciding on who would be joining the Amaranth council in 2020.
Part of Councillor Foster’s rationale for her vote was “I do not think it is fair that we ask for nominations and other people, who did not stand up in the past election for whatever reason and have decided to stand up now, have the right to come forward.” Since she did not get her way, and because township bylaws declare that defeated motions cannot be voted on again for at least six months, Foster told the other members of council that she was fine with the council seat remaining vacant or that they check with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to see what the other options are. CAO Nicole Martin said that other choices will be explored for the next council meeting, which takes place in November, and that if the Amaranth council seat does get filled it may be through a court-appointment.
According to the Municipal Act, Amaranth council has 60 days to call a byelection or to appoint someone to fill the seat. In a related story, the council of West Nipissing recently missed the 60-day deadline to fill their vacant council seat. According to the North Bay Nugget, West Nipissing CAO Jay Barbeau said there are no ramifications for missing the deadline and that West Nipissing is in a ‘holding pattern’ until the deadlock on council ends. West Nipissing’s council conducted a poll amongst themselves on the options before voting on how to move forward, allowing them to proceed with filling the vacant seat whenever they agree on how to do so. Amaranth’s council has left itself with fewer options after the impasse that occurred when Councillor Gail Little brought these motions before them.
The question we are left with until the next council meeting is, why are Mayor Bob Currie and Councillor Heather Foster so insistent on having Susan Graham join council?
Dufferin News will continue to bring you up-to-date stories on the areas in Dufferin County that do not get adequate coverage.
References – Standstill hit when filling vacant Amaranth Council seat
- The Ontario municipal councillor’s guide 2018: Changes to council composition – Ontario Government
- West Nipissing council seat to remain vacant
- Municipal Act, 2001, S.O. 2001, c. 25
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