Former city councillor demands Coquitlam byelection, threatens legal action

Ballots or briefs?

That’s the ultimatum issued by former Coquitlam councillor Neal Nicholson.

Disappointed in the city’s efforts to forgo a byelection that would fill the vacant seat on council, Nicholson recently served Coquitlam and its mayor and council with a notice of pending litigation.

Generally, a municipality is obliged to hold a byelection as soon as is reasonably possible following a vacancy. However, after former councillor Bonita Zarrillo was elected Port Moody-Coquitlam MP in 2021, Coquitlam council lobbied the province to cancel the byelection.

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Several councillors noted the approximately $200,000 cost of the byelection, typically low levels of turnout, as well as voter fatigue caused by holding two elections in the same calendar year.

“Really, none of those things matter,” Nicholson responded. “It’s black-letter law.”

Having previously been elected in a 2010 byelection, Nicholson said he was looking forward to a seeing both Zarrillo’s seat as well as the void she left being filled.

“Bonita spoke for minorities, she spoke for the disadvantaged,” Nicholson said.

At 80 years old, Nicholson added that he would not run for office in the byelection.

Willing to go to court, but . . .

Lawyers retained by Nicholson and fellow petitioner Wayne Taylor informed the city that legal proceedings are imminent unless the city appoints a chief election officer to conduct a byelection. However, Nicholson said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“I have no desire to go to court and rake muck,” he said. “I would like them to go, ‘Holy cow, these guys are serious.’”

The city had discussions with the province about the byelection but said there were no updates when asked earlier this month.

Coquitlam received the letter earlier this week.

“We will be reviewing it closely and responding in due course,” stated the city’s general manager of legislative services Stephanie James in an email.

Two elections in 2022?

Discussing the issue in 2021, Mayor Richard Stewart noted that both winter weather and the pandemic would make campaigning a challenge. He also suggested that running in a byelection before running again in the October 15 municipal election would be a trial for any candidate: “unless . . . they’ve got a circle of friends that are extensive and wealthy.”

The byelection requirement typically mandates municipalities to hold a byelection as soon as is reasonably possible following a vacancy. Local governments have the option of not holding a byelection if the vacancy occurs after Jan. 1 in an election year.

Related: Editorial: We’re Forced – Forced, We Say – To Ask For Another Election (Sorry)

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