By Kirk Starratt
Voters in two Kings County districts will be heading back to the polls in the new year. A Supreme Court decision Dec. 21 declared results of the Oct. 20 municipal elections in districts 8 and 11 void, meaning byelections must be held.
In an oral decision Dec. 21, Judge Gregory Warner ruled Ackland and Winsor were not disqualified from running for council or serving as councillors because they failed to resign or take leave of absence from their roles as volunteer appointees on municipal committees and boards for which they received a stipend. Ackland served on the Grand View Manor board at the time he was disqualified from running in the election by returning officer Heather Archibald; Winsor was on the county’s trails committee.
“What mischief is remedied by having volunteers seek a leave of absence?” Warner asked.
Warner pointed out sitting councillors are not required to seek a similar leave from the same committees when reoffering for election. He said he saw no greater potential for a conflict of interests for citizen appointees than elected councillors serving on such committees and boards. He said wording in the Municipal Elections Act would be specific if the intent were to disqualify volunteer committee members.
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He also ruled it was not within the jurisdiction of the returning officer to revoke nominations after accepting them, as the role of municipal returning officers is administrative and not adjudicative. Warner determined election results in the subject districts were affected as a result.
Happy with decision
“I’m very pleased with the judicial process that took us to a right decision,” Jim Winsor, one of the applicants said following the ruling. “I believe this will improve things generally in Kings County.”
Winsor said he thinks residents will be pleased with the decision.
“It would have been so easy to walk away from this but it would have been the wrong thing to do,” fellow applicant Rick Ackland said. “We have to have free, fair and open elections throughout Kings County.”
The third applicant - resident Nancy Saul-Demers - said the trio is grateful to lawyer David Daniels for volunteering his services for the case.
Both Winsor and Ackland said they would run again in their respective districts.
In District 11, defeated incumbent Eric Smith said he would not run again, but Gary Connolly said he would reoffer.
“The judge is always right,” Connolly, who won the seat in October, said of the decision.
In District 8, Dale Lloyd said he was somewhat disappointed in the decision, but respects the ruling. He won the October election, but said he isn’t sure if he will reoffer. Ted Palmer, the other candidate in that district, couldn’t be reached for comment before press time.
Kings County Warden Diana Brothers said the matter of scheduling new elections would be before council at some point in January. She said the county has been talking with Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations about the situation.
“The fact of the matter is that we have two seats that are vacant right now and I will be paying special attention to those two ridings,” Brothers said.
Neither Brothers or municipal clerk and chief administrative officer Bob Ashley, one of the respondents in the legal challenge, were willing to comment whether the county will appeal.
However, Ashley said the county would start making the necessary provisions for the elections.
“Absolutely we need to be prepared,” he said.
Ashley said he feels the decision would have an impact on how returning officers are trained and all municipalities in the province should take an interest in this matter.