New Brunswick municipal by-elections on hold due to electoral uncertainty

A voter sits behind a voting screen while marking their vote during the New Brunswick provincial election in Dieppe, N.B. on Monday, September 24, 2018. The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese

An organization representing New Brunswick’s municipalities, says the province’s Chief Electoral Officer has put the kibosh on municipal by-elections set for later this year over the political uncertainty surrounding the New Brunswick government.

The Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick (UMNB) said in a press release on Tuesday that they have been informed by Elections NB that municipal by-elections scheduled for Dec. 3, 2018, have now been moved until May 6, 2019.

READ MORE: Elections New Brunswick prepares for snap election if necessary

The organization quotes the purported reasoning from Elections NB as saying the delay is “due to the results of the September 24, 2018, provincial general elections, in order for Elections New Brunswick to be able to plan for any contingency.”

That appears to reference the potential for a snap-election call should Premier Brian Gallant fail to gain the confidence of the Legislative assembly when it returns on Oct. 23, or Blaine Higgs be unable to form a government.

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The president of UMNB, Wayne Sturgeon, says the decision is unacceptable.

“Life can’t stop because there’s a minority government in Fredericton. During the election, we heard from many now-MLAs about the importance of strong local government. We need to hear from them now. Stop delaying democracy and let municipalities get back to work,” said Sturgeon in a letter accompanying the organization’s press release.

A statement from Kimberly Poffenroth, New Brunswick’s Chief Electoral Officer, says that this wasn’t a decision she took lightly.

“Elections New Brunswick must take the necessary measures to clean up the materials used in the recent September election, restock supplies, and focus on preparations for another provincial election,” she wrote.

“Elections New Brunswick does not have the resources required, including trained staff, warehouse space and technical support, to effectively and simultaneously prepare for two large-scale elections.”

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UMNB says that some municipal governments have had seats vacant since April while current vacancies in Aroostook, N.B., have resulted in the municipality unable to meet quorum and unable to conduct day-to-day business.

“The delay denies residents local representation and risks the ability of some municipal councils to operate,” said Sturgeon.

“This is detrimental to local democracy and contrary to building strong local governments.”

Poffenroth acknowledges the ongoing vacancies, saying they impact nearly 90,000 electors or approximately 23 per cent of electors living in a municipality in the province.

She says she has arranged a meeting with UMNB to explain her decision in greater detail.

More to come