Britton Asks Lawyer to Investigate St. Catharines Regional Council’s ‘Wrong and Unfair’ Appointment
Runner-up in the 2018 municipal elections, Mike Britton has hired a lawyer to look into what he calls the St. Catharines City Council’s “erroneous and unjust” decision not to recommend him to fill a vacancy on the regional council.
Last Monday, city council voted 7-6 against a recommendation from city staff to recommend to the Niagara Region that Britton fill the seat left over by the death of Sandie Bellows.
Instead, councilors voted to send St. Patrick’s Coun. Mat Siscoe to the Region.
“I am touched by the outpouring of support and words of encouragement I have received since December 13. Their words to me are clear: what happened at this council (meeting) is wrong and unfair. Britton said in an email when contacted.
“To put it simply: the voters have spoken. They did in the 2018 municipal elections, and they still do today. The will of the people must be placed above politics, above partisanship and above personal relationships – especially the personal interests of politicians.
Britton said he hired Toronto attorney Asher Honickman to “ensure all policies were followed and democracy was protected.” The regional and municipal councils were informed in a letter at the end of last week.
Britton, a former councilor for St. George Ward, ran in 2018 for one of six seats on St. Catharines Regional Council, placing eighth with 6,765 votes. He was behind seventh place Kelly Edgar, who received 7,233 votes.
When St. Catharines’ top finisher, Jim Bradley, who won 18,954 votes, was named regional president, his seat was filled by Edgar after a Dec. 10, 2018, city council recommendation.
Bellows died of cancer in October and her seat was declared vacant on November 18. The region must fill the vacant position by January 17.
When a regional council vacancy occurs, the city council makes a recommendation to fill the vacancy, which must then be approved by the regional council.
According to a city staff report, under the Municipalities Act, an eligible voter in St. Catharines can be named or a by-election can be held.
If the city council chooses to go the appointment route, it has a policy for filling vacancies that was adopted in 2015.
The policy states that if the vacancy occurs within the first three years of the term, the next candidate “may” be nominated if that person has received 70% of the votes of the person who finished before them.
If the vacancy occurs in the last year of the term, the next runner-up “shall” be named if they have obtained 70% of the votes of the person who finished before them.
The term of the Board began on December 1, 2018 and ends on November 14, 2022. As of 2022, new terms will begin on November 15, 2022.
City Clerk Bonnie Nistico-Dunk said the Nov. 18 vacancy falls in the council’s final year, a point she discussed and clarified with the area clerk. But Siscoe said it was a gray area in politics, as the council was also still in its first three years in office on Nov. 18.
City councilors who voted to nominate Siscoe said the policy was outdated and they wanted someone in the role who knew the key issues St. Catharines had faced since 2018, including intermunicipal transit. Siscoe is chair of the area’s Linking Niagara Transit Committee.
Siscoe will have to step down from his ward seat. The board recommended he go to Robin McPherson, third in the St. Patrick’s Ward race behind Siscoe and Karrie Porter.
The vote sparked an online petition from Dale Millar calling on the regional council to ‘stop the cronyism and respect democracy’ by not acting on the council’s recommendation and appointing Britton to the seat. It had more than 400 signatures on Saturday.
“It’s not about me; it’s about the values of democracy, fairness and justice,” Britton said in the email. of the electorate must be preserved.”
The city’s vacancy policy was developed in 2015 after council’s failed attempt to try to fill a vacant seat as St. Catharines Regional Councilor Alan Caslin became regional chair.
In this election, Edgar also came in seventh, but the city council voted 7 to 6 to appoint the ward councilor for St. Andrew’s. Matt Harris in the area in a “double duty” role. This was rejected by the province, which said it could not change the rules midway through a term. The council then voted to recommend Edgar to the regional council.
How has the city council handled the latest vacancies?
- January 2014 – Nominated Laura Ip, third runner-up in the 2010 election, to a seat in St. George’s ward formerly held by Greg Washuta with nine months until the next election.
- January 2015 – Kelly Edgar, seventh-place runner-up in the 2014 election, was recommended to the regional council to fill a vacancy left by Alan Caslin when he was named regional chairman. The move came after the city council failed to promote a councilor in the area to a dual role.
- June 2018 – The Merritton ward seat of Jennie Stevens remained vacant after winning the provincial election to become Member of Parliament for St. Catharines. While provincial legislation stipulates that seats must be filled when there are more than 90 days left before a municipal election, the council felt that the remaining 114 days was still too short to bother filling what would be a council of lame duck.