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VIDEO: Saturday is decision day for municipal elections in Cape Breton

Mayoral candidates for Cape Breton Regional Municipality, clockwise from top left: Kevin MacEachern, Chris Abbass, Amanda McDougall, Archie MacKinnon, John Strasser, and Cecil Clarke.
Mayoral candidates for Cape Breton Regional Municipality, clockwise from top left: Kevin MacEachern, Chris Abbass, Amanda McDougall, Archie MacKinnon, John Strasser and Cecil Clarke. - Herald composite

The leaves are changing colour and so too are Cape Breton’s local political landscapes.

Election day is Saturday and soon voters in five jurisdictions across the island will have elected new governments. The polls close at 7 p.m. on Saturday and the results, at least for those utilizing an electronic-only voting process, are expected to be released soon thereafter.

The elections are being held in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM), the municipalities of Victoria, Richmond and Inverness counties, and the Town of Port Hawkesbury.

With COVID-19-related restrictions in place for the duration of the campaign, local political pundits say the ongoing elections are far and away different than any others they have witnessed.

Cape Breton University political science professor Tom Urbaniak, who has been closely following the mayoral and councillor campaigns in the CBRM, said the new playing field has forced candidates to be more resourceful in connecting with the electorate.

“It’s been a short campaign and it’s tough to run a short campaign when in-person campaigning is greatly reduced,” said Urbaniak, who noted that the more traditional door-knocking has been replaced by social media, pamphlet drops, signage and electronic billboards. 

“It’s really difficult when there aren’t any major community events which are goldmines for political candidates because if they know how to really work an event they can meet hundreds of voters at one time, but this time that has simply not been available to the candidates.”

However, the lack of face-to-face campaigning has not meant any less election-time excitement, especially in the CBRM where more than 81,000 residents are eligible to vote in the election for a mayor and 12 district councillors.

Six candidates are in the mix for mayor including incumbent Cecil Clarke. The two-term mayor has put his record on the line with a campaign based on growing the successes he claims the municipality has had under his leadership.

His opponents include present District 8 councillor Amanda McDougall, acknowledged by the pundits as Clarke’s biggest threat. Also in the race are one-time Sydney mayoral candidate Chris Abbass, Big Pond native and Sydney businessman Kevin MacEachern, former Sydney Mines councillor and federal independent candidate Archie MacKinnon and former Sydney Steel Corporation president and New Dawn Enterprises co-founder John Strasser.

The mayoral candidates have met in two all-candidates forums and one debate that featured only four of the contestants. All were broadcast online.

Campaign controversy

The CBRM mayor and councillor campaigns have also been mired in controversy. A number of candidates have reported stolen and vandalized lawn signs, while a sometimes confrontational vibe has been noticed on social media.

Jim Guy, a longtime CBU political science professor, said he became aware of some of what he called “a mean-spiritedness” in the campaign.

“There has never been more (social media) platforms to hurt somebody – people used to do it interpersonally but now it can be done on a platform that seems to be accessible because no one seems to question the existence of the platform itself,” said Guy.

“But I think a lot more people will have to get hurt before we attack the platforms themselves or regulate them in some way that makes people more cautious about what they say about other people.”

Meanwhile, all 12 CBRM council seats are being contested, but only six feature incumbents meaning the chamber will have a very different look come next week. One of the more interesting races is in District 11 (New Waterford and area), where eight candidates are looking to replace 2016 winner Kendra Coombes who resigned earlier this year after winning the Cape Breton Centre provincial by-election as an NDP candidate.

A total of 49 candidates are seeking CBRM council seats with multiple contestants in all but two of the districts. Districts 2 (North Sydney and area) and District 10 (Dominion and north Glace Bay) each have just two candidates. There are 11 women running for council.

In the Town of Port Hawkesbury, Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton, who was elected in 2016, is being challenged by Archie MacLachlan. The town council is comprised of four members who are elected at large. Seven candidates, including three of the four incumbents, are on the ballot.

In the Municipality of Richmond County, four of the five incumbents are looking to be returned to council. A total of 13 candidates are in the running in the five districts.

In the Municipality of Inverness County, all six members of the council elected in 2016 are back on the ballot. Two, District 1’s Alfred Poirier and District 2’s Laurie Cranton, have no opposition and will be acclaimed. Fourteen candidates are contesting the other four districts.

In the Municipality of Victoria, four of the six incumbents seeking re-election will be acclaimed, while the other four districts feature a total of 10 candidates.

Voting-wise, Richmond County is the only one of the island’s five jurisdictions holding a traditional paper-ballot and polling station election. The other four are all utilizing electronic voting that has been operating on a 24/7 basis since either Oct. 6, 7 or 8.

While the final voter participation rate won’t be known until the results are released, both Urbaniak and Guy believe the CBRM turnout will be higher than the 53.3 voter participation rate of 2016. And the former said the format means the election isn’t over until the clock strikes 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“It’s absolutely not over – the serious candidates and their volunteers will be working the polls and social media right up to the last minute when the polls close. There are still minds to be changed and votes to be secured,” said Urbaniak.

His colleague Guy agrees and believes the system, when perfected, will be here to stay.

“Never before have I ever seen so much opportunity to vote, by telephone and over the internet, this stuff has changed the opportunity of electors to participate in this election, and that’s a really good thing,” said Guy.

“The e-voting process opens the door to mass participation. People like to get on their computers and do things. With e-voting, it is something they can do on their computers and have fun for about 10 minutes. That was never available before for the general electorate.”

MEET THE MAYORAL CANDIDATES (listed alphabetically by last name):

Chris Abbass

Cecil Clarke

Kevin MacEachern

Archie MacKinnon

Amanda McDougall

John Strasser

A complete list of candidates in Cape Breton (*indicates incumbent)

Cape Breton Regional Municipality

Mayoral candidates

Chris Abbass
*Cecil Clarke
Kevin MacEachern
Archie MacKinnon
Amanda McDougall
John Strasser

District 1
Andrew Doyle
Danny Laffin
Gordon MacDonald
Daniel (Duke) Pero
Shara Vickers

District 2
Jim Dunphy
*Earlene MacMullin

District 3
Cyril MacDonald
*Esmond (Blue) Marshall
Glen Murrant
John Whalley

District 4
*Steve Gillespie
Yianni Harbis
Donalda Johnston

District 5
Christina Joe
Nigel Kearns
Shawn Lesnick
*Eldon MacDonald
Scott MacQuarrie

District 6
Barbara Beaton
Keith MacDonald
Glenn Paruch
Todd Riley
Joe Ward

District 7
*Ivan Doncaster
Kevin Hardy
Steve Parsons
Adam Young

District 8
James Edwards
Tracey Hilliard
Diana MacKinnon-Furlong

District 9
Steven James MacNeil
Clarence Routledge
Kenny Tracey

District 10

Matthew Boyd
*Darren Bruckschwaiger

District 11
Dale Cadden
Jennifer Heffernan
Jeff MacNeil
Johnny Miles
Arnie Nason
Chuck Ogley
Darren O’Quinn
Laura Scheller Stanford

District 12
Trevor Allen
Gary Borden
Donald Campbell
Lorne Green
Kim Sheppard

Port Hawkesbury

*Brenda Chisholm-Beaton
Archie MacLachlan

Councillors (four are elected at large)
Jason Aucoin
Pamela Hart
*Hughie MacDougall
*Mark MacIver
*Blaine MacQuarrie
John Ouellette
Michele Tabensky

Richmond County

District 1
Brandon Boudreau
*James Goyetche
Rod Samson
Shawn Samson

District 2
Gerry Bourque
Carolyn Clackdoyle
Michael Diggdon

District 3
*Brian Marchand
Melanie Sampson

District 4
*Gilbert Boucher
Amanda Mombourquette

District 5
*Jason MacLean
Brent Sampson

Victoria County

District 1
*Paul M MacNeil

District 2
*Perla MacLeod
Norman Matheson

District 3
*Bruce J Morrison

District 4
Rosella Born
Barbara Longva

District 5
*Fraser Patterson

District 6
*Larry Dauphinee

District 7
Jeffrey Gwynn
Jackie Organ
Lawrence Seymore
Kim Stockley

District 8
John Buchanan
*Norman MacDonald

Inverness County

District 1
*Alfred Poirier

District 2
*Laurie Cranton

District 3
Larry Lariviere
Bonny MacIsaac
*Jim Mustard
Gerald M. Poirier

District 4
Jason Bernard
*John MacLennan
Christine Dowling

District 5
Lynn Chisholm
*Betty Ann MacQuarrie (Warden)
Thom Oommen

District 6
*John Dowling
Gerard Gillis
Mary Jess MacDonald
Catherine L. Gillis


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