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Ward 2 councillor-elect Shawn Skinner to be sworn in Monday

Councillor-Elect Shawn Skinner said he’s looking forward to serving Ward 2 residents for the remainder of the term, and plans to run again in the municipal election next year. -CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MAURICE FITZGERALD
Councillor-Elect Shawn Skinner said he’s looking forward to serving Ward 2 residents for the remainder of the term, and plans to run again in the municipal election next year. -CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MAURICE FITZGERALD

‘Turnout was lower than we would usually see’: Breen

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The St. John’s city council meeting Monday afternoon will begin with the swearing in of Ward 2 councillor-elect Shawn Skinner.

Skinner won the byelection last Tuesday with 1,242 votes — 23 per cent of the votes cast.

He was up against seven other candidates: Ophelia Ravencroft (936 votes), Lorne Loder (923), Greg Smith (586), Carol Furlong (570), Matt Howse (480), Greg Noseworthy (470) and Wallace Ryan (222).

Altogether, 5,411 people voted in the Ward 2 byelection, and there are 13,194 eligible voters. That’s a voter turnout of 41.01 per cent.

“The turnout was lower than we would usually see,” said Mayor Danny Breen.

“I don’t know specifically for that ward, but we usually have a fairly high voter turnout in municipal elections because of the mail-in ballot.”

The last municipal election, in 2017, had a voter turnout of 56.69 per cent.



Ranked ballot

With the high number of candidates in this byelection, some people — including at least one member of city council, Coun. Maggie Burton — said it was a good argument for a ranked ballot rather than the current first-past-the-post system.

With eight candidates, one of them could have theoretically won the seat with just 13 per cent of the vote.

In a review of election processes completed for the city last September, a panel consisting of political science professors Amanda Bittner and Stephen Tomblin (retired), former Progressive Conservative politician and consultant Ross Reid, and former deputy mayor and commissioner Marie Ryan considered the idea of a ranked ballot.

While the panel said a ranked ballot might increase proportionality, promote a more equitable democratic process and lead to more elected representatives who win by a majority, it might also be considered difficult to understand by voters, and confusion could lead to decreased voter turnout. The ballot design might also increase the overall cost of election administration.

Breen said there are a lot of issues to consider from an operational perspective when it comes to such a change in the electoral system.

That’s why city staff are reviewing reports from London, Ont., where a ranked ballot was adopted in the 2018 municipal election, he said.

“If we did proceed, we’d certainly need the approval of the provincial government before doing so.”

Breen said if council decided to switch to a ranked-ballot system in the future, it’s highly unlikely such a change could be put in place for the municipal election next year because it would require sourcing a company that can do a ranked-ballot count, and it would involve significant communications work to ensure voters are well-informed about how the process works before it’s implemented.

Will run again

Meanwhile, Skinner said he’s looking forward to working on behalf of residents as the Ward 2 councillor until the next municipal election next year.

As per the Municipal Elections Act, this byelection win means he can hold office only for the unexpired term of council.

He said he plans to run again next year.

“I want to get back into municipal politics, and so I’m happy now that I’ve been able to do it. This will give me a year to show people what I am made of, and what I can do, and hopefully they’ll support me again next year when I run again.”

Skinner was previously Ward 2 councillor from 1993-97.

Breen said he’s looking forward to having a full house around the council table again.

The Ward 2 seat has been empty since former councillor Hope Jamieson resigned in August to accept a position as program manager with the Community Housing Transformation Centre.

“It’s necessary for the people in Ward 2 to have their proper representation, although members of council — Coun. (Debbie) Hanlon and others — chipped in and helped out during the time,” said Breen.

“It is important that the wards have their representatives in place. And I’ve known Shawn a long time, and I certainly look forward to his contributions to council.”


Juanita Mercer is the municipal reporter for The Telegram

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