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Voters in Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission and Langley may head back to polls in 2021

Election of local politicians in BC vote would trigger by-elections in several Fraser Valley cities

Whether this fall or next, B.C. voters would have to head to the polls during a pandemic, John Horgan said while explaining his decision to call a snap election.

But now that voting in the 2020 provincial election has concluded, residents of Langley, Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack could all be set to head to the polls again next year.

In three of those Fraser Valley cities, municipal or school board politicians are ahead in their respective races and look likely to trade local government positions for seats in the legislature. In Abbotsford-Mission, meanwhile, Mission Mayor Pam Alexis will have to wait weeks to see if she has won her race against BC Liberal Simon Gibson.

In Abbotsford and Chilliwack, the situation is clearest even with thousands of mail-in ballots to count.

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Abbotsford Coun. Bruce Banman has a 2,000-plus vote lead in his Abbotsford South riding, while Chilliwack school trustee Dan Coulter has a 1,000-vote lead. His opponent, BC Liberal John Martin, has already conceded that he had likely lost.

In Langley, the chair of the school board there, Megan Dykeman, has a 793-vote edge over her BC Liberal rival. The Alexis/Gibson battles is much closer, with Alexis trailing by less than 200 votes.

What seems clear, though, is that by-elections will now be required to fill at least a couple Fraser Valley local government seats.

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Exactly when those elections happen will be up for the respective local governments; provincial legislation gives each considerable leeway for the timing of by-elections. In Burnaby, where two councillors died over the summer, that municipality is eyeing a by-election for the spring.

But with the next full set of civic elections not slated to occur until 2022, local governments won’t be allowed to wait that long.

By law, a municipality is supposed to appoint a chief election officer “as soon as practicable” after a vacancy occurs. That officer then must set a voting day no later than 80 days after his or her appointment.

Over the spring, the province, which has authority over local governments, deferred by-elections as a result of the pandemic. But it has since issued guidelines to municipalities for how they can conduct safe by-elections during the ongoing pandemic.

Local governments, the province said in a news release “are encouraged to continue working with [Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing] staff to confirm plans and timelines to arrange safe, fair and accessible elections.”

Of the four possible Fraser Valley by-elections, the battle for Coulter’s vacated seat might be the most widely watched.

That board has been split between social progressives and conservatives in recent years, with Coulter, the chair of the board, giving progressives a 4-3 voting edge. The conservative block includes Trustee Barry Neufeld, who has been condemned for his views on LGBT and transgender issues.

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