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‘We’re overtime’: DEC members join municipal councillors waiting for election call

While it's technically still his third term, Harry Doyle says he's staying with the Anglophone East District Education Council (DEC) until the next election.
While it's technically still his third term, Harry Doyle says he's staying with the Anglophone East District Education Council (DEC) until the next election. Callum Smith / Global News

Elected municipal officials who already served four years are still at the post, as New Brunswick shelved the planned May 2020 municipal election in March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some councilors, however, have resigned, including a few who were elected in the recent provincial election.

Sackville Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken has taken over mayoral duties; outgoing Mayor John Higham resigned last week along with another councillor.

Aiken says due to COVID-19, the number of events the mayor would attend has shrunk significantly.

“But I’m on far more committees than I was before,” Aiken told Global News. “I just got an invitation to a committee this morning that I didn’t know I was on.”

Read more: New Brunswick becomes first province to hold election amid coronavirus pandemic

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Sackville’s elected officials all serve as councillors-at-large, he says, meaning every councillor represents everyone living in the town.

One thing keeping all municipalities busy is budget negotiations — one reason municipal elections possibly wouldn’t be called this fall.

“I can’t see an election happening in the winter,” Aiken says. “We’re dealing with the COVID, the budgets… No one wants a winter election, so the default position would seem to be the spring.”

The Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick says there needs to be a focus on recruiting candidates for council seats.

“In 2016, 1 in 4 positions were acclaimed in addition to a couple vacant seats at the time,” says Margot Cragg, the union’s executive director.

Read more: Advocacy group, Elections NB call for municipal election date

When municipal elections were postponed, so too were district education council, regional health authority and local service district elections.

“We’re overtime,” says Harry Doyle, the chair of the Anglophone East District Education Council (DEC). “I’m probably on my fourth term.”

“The DEC itself, most of us agreed at the end of June last year, that we would stay on until government decided when the DEC elections should be,” Doyle told Global News.

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Doyle and Cragg both say increased wages could help attract new candidates for the respective roles. DEC members earn $3000 annually, according to Doyle.

But, he says members are in it for other reasons. “I would doubt that there’s anybody sitting around the table that’s there because of what they pay us,” he says. “I think there’s a genuine feeling that we’re doing really good thing.”

Click to play video 'New Brunswickers call for Higgs to call municipal elections' New Brunswickers call for Higgs to call municipal elections
New Brunswickers call for Higgs to call municipal elections

Municipal elections have to take place no later than May 10, 2021.

In a statement, New Brunswick’s new Local Government Minister Daniel Allain said the province understands the importance of setting a date — and a decision will be finalized in the “near future.”