The people of Princeton may well be the only ones in the province who aren’t heading for the polls November 15th to elect a municipal government.
Friday at 4 p.m. Mayor Frank Armitage and four candidates for town council were acclaimed to four-year terms, as were Princeton’s three school board trustees.
The new Princeton council consists of Armitage, returning members Doug Pateman and Kim Maynard, and newcomers Jerome Tjerkstra and Rosemary Doughty.
School Board trustees for School District 58 Area 2 are Gordon Comeau, David Rainer and Leah Ward.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Armitage in an interview following the close of nominations.
He’s not the only one.
Brad Hope, exiting Regional Director for Area H, holds a degree in political science and has worked in and around municipal politics most of his life. He describes the complete acclamation of council as “staggering.”
“I just find it so amazing that I have had so many calls over the last few years about things that people were pleased with, or not, and had opinions of councillors who were there – good, bad or indifferent – and the election comes and where’s the pressure to have people run?”
Hope said he could not finger apathy or taxpayer satisfaction as reasons for the lack of nominations.
“I wish I had an opinion on why people are not stepping up or encouraging others to do so.”
The story is dramatically different in other communities in BC’s interior. There are three contenders for the top position in Regional District H; Bob Coyne, Jamie Frandsen and Charles Weber.
Penticton has a record-breaking slate of candidates for its municipal election including a three-way mayoral race and 25 people bidding for seats on council. In Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer is being challenged by Martin Meznies, and there are seven people running for council. Eight people in Kelowna are competing for the mayor’s job, there are 31 hopefuls vying for eight council seats and ten people seeking four positions on the school board.
Hugo Rodriguez, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists and a municipal affairs specialist, said the situation in Princeton is unique in his experience. “It’s kind of a knock on democracy, that you would have so many seats go unopposed for two of your most important levels of government, town council and school board.
“As soon as you step off your property or turn on your tap you are interacting with your municipality. If you have children in school you are interacting with your school board everyday. For two things that are so important to the way you live your life and the way you experience everything around you it’s just odd there would be so few people interested in helping lead those two governments.”
Council newcomer Jerome Trjerkstra said in an interview with the Spotlight the process of acclamation creates unique challenges for his first term. “Acclamation will require that I pursue definitely the thoughts and opinions of the townsfolk over the next four years…There’s a higher demand for pursuing support for any initiative that may come down the road.”
Returning councilor Doug Pateman said he has “mixed feelings” about being acclaimed.
“It’s nice that I don’t have to go through the stress of a campaign and don’t have to knock on doors and spend a lot of money on signs and do the all candidates meeting. On the other hand I don’t get to knock on doors and do the signs and the all candidates meeting.” Pateman was first elected to council two and half years ago in a by-election triggered by the death of Mayor Fred Thomas.
According to Hope, the past few years have been politically turbulent in Princeton. The general municipal election three years ago was dominated by a debate centering on the joint regional district-town referendum about building an aquatic center in the area.
“It was quite contentious which is not necessarily a negative thing. I thought there was lots of activity. Everyone had opinions and the papers were full of letters to the editor. I thought it was contentious but certainly interesting and informative and I suppose exciting as well. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience certainly but it certainly involved everyone.”
Hope said that kind of robust election is generally followed my more, vibrant, challenges at the polls and he said he “disappointed” that Princeton will not be voting next month.
“Especially now that we have a four year term, that’s a long time between opportunities to really your concerns and your interests and help put forward people who have ideas…I’m a bit sorry to see that it’s just acclamation and we don’t get the opportunity to get to hear the positions and we don’t get to choose and we don’t get the opportunity to direct.”