Abbotsford’s upcoming byelection was never supposed to occur. At least that was the original plan Bruce Banman told Mayor Henry Braun shortly after winning the Abbotsford South riding in the 2020 provincial election last October.
Banman initially told mayor and council that he was going to remain in his role as city councillor and also serve as the Abbotsford South MLA until Jan. 1, 2022, when he would step down as councillor.
Waiting until that date would mean the City of Abbotsford would avoid a byelection, which could prove costly and challenging especially with a short turnaround and in the middle of a pandemic.
“I met with him the Monday or Tuesday following his win and I wanted to inquire what his thoughts were on when he was going to resign his seat on council and his answer was that he wasn’t,” Braun told The News. “It really shocked me a bit but legislation allows a councillor or mayor to finish their term and draw two salaries if they’re elected to a higher office. I thought it was bizarre but that’s the legislation.”
Braun said Banman told the rest of council his plans, reiterating that staying in the role until Jan. 1, 2022 would avoid a byelection and its cost. Braun said council and mayor have zero say in this type of decision and it is completely up to the individual if they want to remain on the job.
He pointed to Abbotsford-Mission MLA Pam Alexis, who made the decision early that she would step down from her role as Mission mayor after she was successful in the 2020 provincial election. That thinking allowed Mission to move forward with election plans and crown their new mayor – Paul Horn – on Saturday, April 24.
Mayor and council continued normally with Banman in the role until he suddenly decided he did not want to.
“I get a call – I think it was on Feb. 18 – and Bruce called me and told me he was going to resign,” Braun said, noting it was made effective on Feb. 28. “So this was a complete reversal from what his position was both publicly and privately. Now we are caught flat-footed and scrambling like mad.”
Braun pointed out that several steps still need to be made to hold a byelection, such as voting locations. The Ag-Rec Building, which has been used in the past, is tied up until the end of the year administering COVID-19 shots.
There is also the factor of mail-in ballots, a bylaw that was passed a couple of years ago by council at that time. Volunteers, voting machines and a date all need to be selected. Byelections must occur on a Saturday, but before all of that a chief election officer must be chosen.
The balancing act with choosing a chief election officer is that the election must occur within 80 days of his or her appointment. Braun estimated the byelection cost will be approximately $300,000 to $350,000.
“From a purely numbers point of view, I could see the logic. Bruce was thinking about saving money by not stepping down,” he said. “But what has been disappointing is that for those four and a half months he told us he was going to stay and then changed his mind just out of the blue. I have a funny feeling there were probably others speaking into his ears.”
Braun decided to speak out after former mayoral candidate Trevor Eros bowed out of the byelection. Eros cited the lack of clarity on the byelection as one of the reasons for dropping out of the race.
There are currently only three people who have declared for the byelection. Braun said he sympathized with Eros and those participating, but the city is trying its best to move the process forward.
He noted that the Mission byelection took about five or six months from when Alexis stepped down, and that would peg Abbotsford’s for sometime in the fall or summer as Banman officially stepped down on Feb. 28.
The News reached out to Banman and the BC Liberal Party, but they have not yet responded.