Editorial: Voting for change

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When voter participation in a local government election increases by 700 per cent,  it’s hard not to ask what the heck is going on.

The answer is that when a pandemic throws everything off course, voting by mail is apparently embraced on Salt Spring Island.

What happened is that when the usual returning officer advised he would not preside over a North Salt Spring Waterworks District trustees’ election that would see untold members of the public come into a voting space, the NSSWD board and staff decided to use a mail-in ballot process instead. It had never been done before and the timeline was tight.

Last year’s NSSWD AGM saw 110 ballots cast in person by ratepayers at Community Gospel Chapel when four candidates vied for two trustee positions. This year’s mail-in process saw 753 ballots returned out of 3,038 sent out to NSSWD property owners qualified to vote, or almost 25 per cent. That level of interest and participation in a water utility election, when the candidates were not presenting competing positions on any particular issues, is almost shocking. 

Could it be that islanders were so bored due to COVID-19 restrictions that voting for waterworks trustees provided some excitement for the week? 

Whatever the reason, it seems that mail-in voting was positively embraced and it should definitely be considered for future elections.

On the other hand, only seven ratepayers attended the meeting where election results were announced and other business conducted. One was a trustee candidate, another was the spouse of the incumbent trustee in the race, a third was a past NSSWD chair and a fourth was a waterworks staff person.

And with that small number of people, a rather bizarre thing occurred in that the spouse of a trustee made a motion that the trustees’ monthly honorarium level be raised from $150 to $250 per month for trustees and from $200 to $300 per month for the chair. The trustees themselves did not speak in favour of a raise except to acknowledge the position does require ample time. The staff person did not vote.

Trustees will now be paid more, but the optics of one of those trustees’ spouses being the person to propose the raise is not a model of good governance.

When it comes to democratic reform, NSSWD trustees should keep mail-in voting but look at who is allowed to initiate their pay raises.

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