Monday, November 24, 2014

Opening Up the Regional Chair’s Election

Niagara Regional Chair's view in Council Chamber 
While Niagara Region Staff will host sessions to help orientate new (and returning) Councillors this week, the members of the newly elected Regional Council won’t officially convene until Thursday, December 11 at 10:00 AM.

After the Regional Clerk officially administers the “Declaration of Office” for our 30 members, the first “order of business” will be the election of a Chair.

Candidates from Council Only:
In the first phase of the election, the Regional Clerk will ask for nominations for candidates; only Regional Councillors can run as a candidate to become Chair. Following nominations, each candidate will have a chance to speak for five minutes.

While the Municipal Act does allow the election of any qualified elector from Niagara to be nominated and elected Chair, the precedent from the last seven elections and the policy from two resolutions from Regional Council (in 1991 and again in 2013) means that Council elects a Chair from the recently elected members of Council.

Run-Off Election & Secret Ballot:
If two or more candidates run for Chair, the Clerk will oversee the “run-off” election (like used in political leadership contests). For example, if after the first ballot, no candidate receives a majority of the votes – 16 – then the candidate with the fewest votes will be removed from consideration, and Councillors will vote on another ballot. The voting continues until one candidate receives a majority.

Interestingly, while the Municipal Act allows for the option of secret or open ballots, Niagara Regional Council stipulates that the vote for Regional Chair “shall” be a secret vote.

Filling the Vacancy:
Following their election as Chair, the person must “give up” his or her seat – creating a vacancy on Council. How is that seat filled? Regional Council follows the advice of the local City or Town Council: the options include a by-election, appointing the next candidate in the last general election, appointing another qualified elector. In the case of filling the Chair’s seat, precedent has been to appoint the next candidate.

Opening Up the Election:
The Regional Chair holds an extremely important role in Niagara. Not only does she or he set the legislative and economic agenda and preside over Regional Council, the Chair also advocates for all of Niagara with Provincial, Federal, and other Governments.

Despite policies and precedents that preclude a direct election for Regional Chair, the process should be as open and transparent as possible. I applaud Niagara’s eight local Chambers of Commerce, local newspapers, and TV Cogeco for organizing a public debate of candidates for Chair on December 3. I hope that this effort begins the discussion about who we should elect as Niagara’s Regional Chair for the 2014-18 term of Council.