An empty chair sits before us.
Once, there were nine Coquitlam councillors. Now, following former councillor Bonita Zarrillo’s municipal-to-federal flight, we’re down to eight councillors and one vacant seat.
So, what should be done about that vacancy?
If you’re Coquitlam council, nothing. Their plan, which needs an OK from the province, is to treat Zarrillo’s seat like my grandmother’s fine dinnerware and put it away until next year.
Last week, council appealed to the province to scrap the customary byelection requirement. The next municipal election is set for October 2022 and, until then, they argued, eight is enough.
Is eight enough?
Council noted the high cost of the election (around $200,000) as well as the miniscule impact of the newly-elected.
And they’re probably right. In all likelihood the victorious candidate would spend a few wide-eyed months in office and, by the time they’d figured out what they were supposed to be doing, they’d have to pull the lawn signs out of storage and go through the time-consuming, exhausting, expensive election process all over again.
Then there’s the voters, who don’t seem to be clamouring for more debates and door knocking. (Voter turnout in municipal byelections tends to rise to about the level of a groundhog in a limbo contest.)
So, we should scrap it, right?
I can’t believe I’m about to make this argument but no, I don’t think we should.
I can’t refute any of the points Coquitlam council made. A byelection would probably be a waste of time. But not necessarily.
Zarrillo was sometimes the 1 in council’s 8-1 decisions and without her presence Coquitlam’s government appears comfortable and verging on harmonious. Meetings are efficient. Agreement is common. It’s one long even keel. Which is why we need someone odd.
I’m not suggesting Coquitlam would be better-served with Port Moody-style acrimony but I do believe a variety of voices are essential, particularly voices that dissent, question and sometimes even frustrate.
And, as unlikely as it is, Coquitlam council landing in a 4-4 deadlock on even a single issue would be something of an embarrassment.
Coquitlam council is eight/ninths right but somehow they’re still wrong.
You’ve got an empty chair, Coquitlam. It’s not your fault it’s empty but it is your responsibility to fill it.