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Dismal turnout, low turnover in Northeast B.C. elections

What was good enough for us in 2011 is good enough for us now. That was the clear message sent by voters in the Northeast this local election season, albeit a message somewhat weakened by perhaps the weakest voter turnout in many years, if not ever.
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Despite more early voting than previous elections, turnout on Election Day itself was way down in a number of Northeast B.C. municipalities.

What was good enough for us in 2011 is good enough for us now.

That was the clear message sent by voters in the Northeast this local election season, albeit a message somewhat weakened by perhaps the weakest voter turnout in many years, if not ever.

As reported earlier, Fort St. John kept its entire council, while Dawson Creek reelected all four of the council incumbents who were running. Both cities’ mayors stood alone for reelection and were acclaimed weeks ago.

In fact, only four incumbents, out of the dozens running across northeastern B.C., lost their bids for re-election – and two of those came in one school board race.

Only 23 per cent of the estimated eligible voters in the Northeast came out to vote, compared to 26 per cent in 2011 and over 32 per cent in 2008. In other words, there were 400 fewer votes this year than in 2011, despite a growth in the voting population of almost 2,400 since then.

Here’s how some of the other races in the region went down. Note that all numbers are currently preliminary, and won’t be officially certified until next week:

In the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, Bill Streeper was re-elected as mayor in a surprisingly close race against a former councillor who served under him.

Streeper won with 840 votes, compared to 700 for Kim Eglinski.

Six people out of the eight running were named to council. They include Danny Soles, Laurie Dolan, Kyle Andrews, Todd Osbourne, Doug McKee and Lorraine Gerwing. Soles received the most votes, with 1,145; coming in sixth was Gerwing, with 865 votes.

The two who didn’t earn seats were Nathan Bauder and Skip Hall.

Voter turnout in Fort Nelson was about 35.4 per cent. That was a slight drop from 2011, when 39.4 per cent came to the polls.

One issue that got overwhelming support from Northern Rockies voters was a non-binding ballot question asking them if the region should switch to Mountain Standard Time year-round and nix Daylight Savings Time, like the Peace Region. Almost 75 per cent agreed with the idea.

In Chetwynd, Mayor Merlin Nichols was acclaimed earlier, but voters had a chance to pick a new council.

Laura Weisgerber, Ernest Pfanner, Clay Bassendowski, Rochelle Galbraith, Mel Deck and Alec Brownlee won the six seats available on the next council out of eight candidates.

Weisgerber received the most votes, with 299, and coming in sixth was Brownlee with 205. Dale Tremblay and Darren Shankel came up short.

When compared to previous years, less people turned out. This year, about 395 voters came out, representing a 20 per cent turnout. In 2011, 413 votes were cast, representing 25 per cent of eligible voters. In 2008, 499 voters came out, representing a 31 per cent turnout.

In Tumbler Ridge, Don McPherson was elected as mayor, receiving 301 votes. Garret Golhof was a close second with 258, and Bev Fournier received 132. McPherson, a current councillor, steps up to replace Darwin Wren, who decided not to seek another term.

Six people out of the nine running were elected to council. They include Joanne Kirby, Will Howe, Rob Mackay, Mike Caisley, Darryl Karakowka and Helen Scott. One incumbent, Tim Snyder, was unseated, unlike fellow incumbents Caisley and Mackay.

Will Howe received the most votes with 537, and Mackay received the fewest, with 341. The also-rans also included Marcel Brodeur and Rose Colledge. Colledge earned 325 votes, just barely missing out on a seat.

When compared to previous years, the numbers were in between previous elections. This year, 691 votes were cast, which was about 32.5 per cent of eligible voters. In 2011, 569 votes were cast, representing 30 per cent of eligible voters. In 2008, 863 voters came out, representing a 45 per cent turnout.

In Taylor, Robert Fraser was nominated as Mayor. He won with 172 votes.

His nearest competitor was Brad Filmer, with 123 votes, followed by Wayne Wilmot, with 26 votes.

Fraser will replace outgoing mayor Fred Jarvis, who stepped down after 28 years on the job.

Since only four people put their name forward for council, no vote was needed, and they were all acclaimed to their position.

When compared to previous years, more people turned out to cast a ballot. This year, 322 people came out, a voter turnout of about 29 per cent. In 2011, 237 votes were cast, representing 27 per cent of eligible voters. In 2008, 154 voters came out, representing a 20 per cent turnout.

The slight increase in turnout in Taylor should not be surprising, given that Pierre Trudeau was barely out of office the last time there was a change in mayor in what was then a village.

In Hudson’s Hope, Mayor Gwen Johansson was acclaimed, but voters had a chance to pick a new council.

Dave Heiberg, Kelly Miller, Caroline Beam, Nicole Gilliss, Heather Middleton, and Travous Quibell earned seats on the new council. Heiberg received the most votes, with 210; coming in sixth was Quibell, with 142 votes.

The only candidate not elected was Scott Kyllo, who received 106 votes. All but Beam and Middleton were incumbents.

Hudson’s Hope had a significantly lower turnout in 2014 compared to previous races. Only 28.7 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014, down from 54.9 per cent in 2011 and nearly 71 per cent in 2008. According to preliminary results from CivicInfoBC, the district actually received fewer votes this year – 249, versus 287 – despite having 40 per cent more voters on the rolls than in 2011.

In Pouce Coupe, William Plowright was reelected as mayor in what turned out to be a very close race against former mayor Barb Smith. He won with 86 votes to Smith’s 78, followed by Kimeal Cooke with 48 votes.

Four people out of the eight running were named to council. They include incumbents Colleen Evans and Andre Lavoie, as well as former councillor Red Merrick and Raymond Johnston. Evans received the most votes for council, with 116, and Johnston came in fourth with 97 votes, only seven more than fifth-place John Morgan.

Voter turnout in this race, too, was far lower than in 2011 – down from 51.3 per cent to 35.7 per cent. Still, that was still enough to narrowly give Pouce the crown for having the highest turnout of any local government race in the Northeast.

In the Peace River Regional District, two new people were elected to represent rural areas.

The new Area C Director – covering Baldonnel and other areas around Fort St. John – is Brad Sperling. He won with 201 votes, defeating competitor James Bergen, who earned 169 votes.

The new Area E Director is Dan Rose, who defeated incumbent Jerrilyn Schembri, 192 votes to 135. Don Harris received 58 votes.

Rural voters in the PRRD’s Area D also had a reason to vote Saturday, although their representative Leonard Hiebert was acclaimed weeks ago. They decided against funding a community centre at the former Tate Creek Elementary School in Tomslake, which closed earlier this year.

School District 59 had the biggest upset of the night, as challengers Crystal Hillton and Andrea Smith defeated both current trustees in Area I, which covers Chetwynd. Sorene Kampen lost to Smith by 17 votes, while Anita Prescott finished about 70 votes shy of Kampen.

Meanwhile, current incumbents Dick Powell and Tamara Ziemer cruised to easy victories in Area III, representing Dawson Creek, and Sherry Berringer prevailed in a much closer but still clear victory over challenger Roxanne Gulick to continue representing Tumbler Ridge.

Finally, in the open race to represent the rural Area V, Nicole Soontiens soundly defeated Bob Busby by a vote count of 110 to 11.

In School District 60, current chair Jaret Thompson and fellow incumbent Darrell Pasichnyk reclaimed their trustee positions in Zone 5, which covers Fort St. John-Charlie Lake. Newcomer Bill Snow also won.

The battle for the final Zone 5 seat was relatively close: Pasichnyk only finished about 30 votes ahead of challenger Jeffrey Richert, and Geoff Bough was only a handful of votes below that.

Meanwhile, in the tiny Zone 1 race, incumbent Linda Sewell-Stringer beat challenger Tanya Clary, 20 votes to 12.

And last but not least, four of the five incumbents ran for the at-large seats in School District 81, and all four won – although the top-vote getter in that race was actually a challenger, Bill Dolan.

Mike Gilbert, Linda Dolen, Doug Tofte and Eric Ashdown also won, leaving challenger Yvette Taylor as the only candidate without a seat in that race.

reporter@ahnfsj.ca