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New Port Moody councillor decries lack of interest in city government

Hunter Madsen won a byelection Sept. 30 in which 12 per cent of voters cast a ballot

Campaign signs in Port Moody. Photo by Daniel Dadi-Cantarino
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Reported by Daniel Dadi-Cantarino

A newly elected Port Moody city councillor believes the low voter turnout in the byelection he won last month shows that many residents aren’t interested in local politics.

Hunter Madsen, who ran as an independent candidate, won 1,277 votes in a race that saw only 12 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot Sept 30. Madsen replaces former councillor Rick Glumac, who won a seat with the NDP in the May provincial election.

“I ran into some people when I was door knocking who said, ‘Your candidacy sounds good but no, I’m not voting,’” Madsen told The Voice.

He said voters told him they “gave up on voting a while ago” because they didn’t believe their vote resulted in any change, particularly in halting the pace of development.

Vancouver’s upcoming byelection

This Saturday (Oct. 14), Vancouverites will vote in a byelection for a new city councillor and a new nine-person school board. Nine candidates are running for council and 19 for school board.

Janice MacKenzie, Vancouver’s chief election officer, believes there is increased interest in the byelection because of the number of seats available. She hopes the number of choices will translate to a bigger voter turnout.

“This [byelection] is a little bit different because we got the school board — an entire board that people can vote for — and because of how things played out, and how the board was dismissed, there’s greater interest,” Mackenzie said.

Vancouver trustees were fired last October by former Liberal Minister of Education Mike Bernier after the board refused to balance its budget. Allegations of trustees bullying senior staff later surfaced in two reports ordered by the Ministry of Education and WorkSafe B.C.

The byelection was called after Geoff Meggs resigned his council seat in July to become chief of staff to Premier John Horgan. Horgan’s government then decided to tack on the school board race to the ballot.

Political parties versus independent candidates

Well-funded political parties often dominate civic elections, particularly in Vancouver, where an independent candidate hasn’t been elected to city hall since 1986.

“Port Moody generally does not see political parties or electoral associations involved in elections,” said Tracey Takahashi, Port Moody’s deputy chief election officer. “Vancouver has slates of candidates, whereas Port Moody candidates generally run as independents.”

Madsen said he spent “ thousands” on his campaign, whereas Vision Vancouver raised more than $3 million for the 2014 general election. The NPA, their main political rivals, raised around $2 million for the 2014 race.

“I do think that big money plays a role in local politics in Port Moody, but it’s a question of scale,” Madsen said. “Vancouver is Vancouver, but Port Moody has about 33,000 residents, which is just a neighbourhood in Vancouver in terms of size.”

The NDP-led provincial government has promised to ban big money from civic campaigns but has yet to introduce a bill that would create a new set of rules for next year’s civic elections.

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