Iqaluit councillors weigh options to fill vacant council seat

By-election “just as expensive” as regular election


An empty seat on Iqaluit city council, lower left, has remained vacant since the late Jimmy Kilabuk resigned his seat April 9. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

An empty seat on Iqaluit city council, lower left, has remained vacant since the late Jimmy Kilabuk resigned his seat April 9. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

More than three months after the resignation of Jimmy Kilabuk from city council and his death shortly after at age 71, Iqaluit City Council is now pondering the question of how to fill the vacancy.

Mayor John Graham raised the matter at a regular meeting, June 23, and pointed to three options.

“The first is that we do nothing. We just maintain the status quo, and that we operate just as we have when we started off as a council back in November,” he said, noting that Kilabuk never actually attended a city council meeting after he was re-elected on Oct. 15, 2012.

The lifelong Iqaluit resident fell ill at election time, and his condition “just got progressively worse,” said John Hussey, the chief administrative officer for the city.

Kilabuk resigned from council this past April 9 and died April 19, never having sat at a meeting of the current council.

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Council’s second option to fill the vacancy, said Graham, is to appoint a member from the community.

In the past, council has often turned to the appointment of council election candidates who finished below eighth place in the most recent election.

The third option is to hold a by-election. With an eye on the territorial elections scheduled for Oct. 28, Graham said city officials had discussed the possibility of holding a by-election at the same time.

Councillors leaned toward this option as a possible cost-saving measure.

But when asked about by-election costs to the city, Hussey said there would be “very little” or no difference compared with the cost of a regular election.

“The workload is the same,” he said. “You’re still up to $85,000 to $90,000 by the time it’s all done.”

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All expenses, including appointment of a chief electoral officer, translation, advertisements, advance polling, voter registration, polling station rental, to name just a few – would remain the same, Hussey said.

“Whether we’ve got two candidates or 10 candidates, it’s just as expensive.”

Hussey said arrangements could be made with Elections Nunavut to combine the by-election with the territorial election and save on costs.

A decision on such an option would have to be made fairly quickly, he said, since time lines for an October poll would start in August.

“And if they decide not to cooperate, then we’ll have to do it on our own,” he said.

Another option is to combine the by-election with school board elections, which could halve the costs, he said.

Councillors Romeyn Stevenson and Mark Morrissey said they favoured a by-election.

“I do cringe at the cost and would prefer to see that wasn’t so expensive, but I think it is needed,” said Stevenson.

Even though the current council has always had enough councillors in attendance to make decisions despite Kilabuk’s absence, quorum needed to make decisions “isn’t the issue,” said Stevenson, “the issue is citizen’s voices and having all our citizens represented.”

Most councillors agreed. The mayor remarked that, according to Nunavut’s Cities, Towns and Villages Act, the city could also appoint “a person who is eligible as a candidate” for council.

Coun. Joanasie Akumalik said he favoured this option, pointing to the costs of an election.

Morrissey said appointments undermine the authority of the office, which is decided by election to begin with. He added that council has filled vacancies by by-election in the past, which set a precedent.

“We’ve already set that standard, so we are kind of obligated to hold another by-election,” said Morrissey.

Council agreed to have Hussey check with the territorial government about the costs and timelines needed to run a by-election jointly with the territorial election on October 28.

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