Josie Osborne is the West Coast’s new MLA and that means Tofino needs a new mayor, though a municipal by-election is unlikely to be held until the New Year.
Osborne was declared the winner of the Mid Island-Pacific Rim riding in Saturday night’s provincial election and had been clear in the weeks leading up to it that she would resign from her role as Tofino’s mayor if her provincial bid was successful.
“Josie is a very hard working mayor. She put a lot of time and effort into being a mayor and it shows and I think we can all be really proud and expect her to put the same amount of hard work and effort into being an MLA that she put into being a mayor so that’s going to be great,” Tofino’s acting mayor Dan Law told the Westerly News.
Coun. Andrea McQuade agreed.
“I’m thrilled for her. This is something that I think is a perfect fit for her and I think that her experience being the mayor of Tofino, that moves from being a small town to having a big city vibe and big city infrastructure problems means that she’s ready to take on just about all the other towns and cities in her riding,” she said.
“Josie winning is incredible for her and incredible for the community,” said Coun. Britt Chalmers.
“Having her understanding of the issues that we face as a small community with big problems and bringing it to that next level will really benefit us so, I think, overall it will be for the better of the community.”
Tofino’s manager of corporate services Elyse Goatcher-Bergmann told the Westerly that the district will likely wait until the New Year to hold a by-election to fill Osborne’s seat and suggested legislation provides some lee-way in terms of when an election must be held.
“It gives you a little bit of breathing room by saying ‘as soon as practicable,’ after the office of the mayor is vacant you must hold a by-election,” Goatcher-Bergmann said.
She added that the district does not plan to “drag our feet on it,” but suggested hosting an election over the holiday season would not be practicable.
“We may postpone the start of our process until after the holiday season,” she said, adding that would allow proper time for all candidates meetings, advertising and voter registration to occur without interfering with winter festivities.
She added the clock starts once a chief election officer has been appointed as the by-election must be held within 80 days of that appointment.
Whenever it occurs, this will be the first time mail-in ballots are accepted in a Tofino municipal election, as district records dating all the way back to 1932 show that mail-in ballots have never been allowed. The decision to allow mail-in ballots was made prior to the coronavirus pandemic as, following Tofino’s 2019 byelection, council approved an amendment to the district’s election procedures bylaw to allow mail-in ballots as well as add a second advanced voting day.
Goatcher-Bergmann noted that any councillor who chooses to run for mayor must resign from their council seat prior to the campaign, meaning there could be multiple seats up for grabs if any councillors decide to run for the mayor’s seat. She suggested Tofino could hold by-elections for the mayor and any necessary council positions at the same time.
Speaking to the Westerly News on Sunday, Councillors Al Anderson, Britt Chalmers and Tom Stere all said they are not planning to run for mayor. Councillors Dan Law and Andrea McQuade declined to comment on whether they’re planning to run. Coun. Duncan McMaster did not respond by presstime.
While the groundwork for a by-election is being laid out, Tofino’s six councillors will continue taking month-long rotating turns as acting mayor.
“All of the things that the mayor can do, the acting mayor can do,” Goatcher-Bergmann said. “Typically, they try not to make big policy shifts during that term. They’re really trying to steady the ship because the process of democracy is supposed to fill the seat of the mayor and it’s really just in these intervening circumstances where someone needs to be available, but not necessarily making big changes.”
October’s acting mayor has been Dan Law who has led the month’s council meetings while also handling questions from residents and media.
He said he supports waiting until after the holidays to hold an election.
“I don’t think anybody really wants an election over Christmas and I don’t think we really need it, honestly,” he said. “The mayor really does try to set a tone and steer Tofino in a direction, but I think a couple months waiting for a reasonable time to have an election isn’t going to change the direction of Tofino drastically. I think it might even be good for people to be able to sit back and think about where they want Tofino to go and whoever steps up to run for mayor will have time to really put together a platform, really think about it and maybe canvas the community and find out what the community wants to do; maybe its the status quo, maybe it’s a change.”
READ MORE: Dan Law wins Tofino byelection
Coun. Andrea McQuade agreed with not rushing into a by-election.
“I’m in favour of moving forward in a thoughtful, well-paced way that means we have the most civic engagement in an election, that means the most viable, involved, interested candidates running and that we have the time and the system to play all of those effects to the fullest,” she said.
She assured that Tofino will not suffer from “a deficit of leadership” in the months before a new mayor is elected thanks to an “incredibly motivated, thoughtful council.”
“That seventh role has been redistributed amongst the councillors and everyone on that council has been doing just a little bit more to ensure we are still providing a cohesive, thought out approach to governing this town. It’s been incredible. I’m so proud to be a part of this council,” she said.
“Josie ran on a mandate, each of these councillors ran on a mandate and that didn’t evaporate; that didn’t cease to exist when Josie was elected. The reasons that we all ran are still represented at that table…We are mindful and thoughtful of the fact that we are six people instead of seven, but collaborative democracy and good decision making and consensus building is something this council does exceedingly well. Whether Josie is there to guide it or not, I have full faith that this council and our staff will not only come through this, but thrive through it. We’ll be just fine.”
Coun. Tom Stere said council has proven its ability to maintain good governance in Osborne’s absence over the past month.
“We have, in my opinion, competent people to lead the way and we’ve got a very supportive staff that is helping us in this transition time,” he said. “We would not want to burden the electorate with an election over the Christmas season and, let’s be honest, there’s a little bit of fatigue with the provincial election as well. I think we’re totally prepared for this and we have a good group of people to lead us forward.”
Coun. Al Anderson agreed.
“We’ll miss her, but we’ve got a series of acting mayors that will rotate over those months,” he said. “The staff is really solid, so I see no problems with council carrying on.”
Coun. Britt Chalmers is preparing to serve as Tofino’s acting mayor in November.
“Staff is incredible working with us and helping us work our way through,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a good experience.”
Chalmers noted that councillors have long taken turns chairing committee of the whole meetings and said she has had several previous opportunities to serve as the town’s acting mayor. She said she has “great confidence” that council will be able to continue its effectiveness with a vacant mayor’s seat.
“We work as a team. While we’ve had a lot of different opinions, I think we have a very good working relationship,” she said. “By having the support of each other and staff and having good working relationships, I don’t foresee any issues…I’m excited. Change is always hard, but always brings great new things.”