The mess in Richmond County — after the hearing

Richmkond Districts

You couldn’t soft-boil an egg in the time it took three senior judges of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal to dismiss Richmond County’s appeal of the UARB decision trimming its council from 10 seats to five. (See previous posts here, here, and here.)

So the UARB decision stands and Richmond County Council will have only five members after the October 15 election.

Or will it have six?

The Municipal Government Act gives the UARB final say on the number of councillors in each municipality. But an odd wrinkle in the act empowers the council itself to decide if it will have a warden elected from among its members, or a mayor elected at large. If Richmond Council chooses the mayoral option, council will have six members in total.

That’s the system favoured by the Gang of Four—the four councillors, led by ousted warden Steve Sampson, who petitioned the UARB to set council size at five, and successfully opposed the county’s appeal of that decision.

It may also be the option favoured by some of the other six councillors. After all, they wanted a larger council, and while six is far smaller than the 10 they hoped for, it’s definitely larger than five. Logically, it would seem to be the best option available from their point of view.

One argument in favour of the mayoral system is that it would give each resident two representatives they could turn to on municipal matters: their councillor and the mayor.

Political considerations may also play a role. Some of the councillors who fought to retain 10 seats may be concerned they could lose in an election with only five districts. A simultaneous campaign for mayor could ease that risk.

Of the 10 people now sitting on council, two or three are not expected to re-offer. Two more—Warden Victor David and former Warden Sampson—would be likely candidates for mayor, in which case, they cannot run for council. So it’s possible the five remaining councillors will be the only incumbents in their respective districts.

Much of what happens over the next 24 hours will depend on the leadership of Malcolm Beaton, acting as warden while Victor David is ill. He favoured a 10-person council, but later joined with the Gang of Four to defeat the invidious motion for a forensic audit (about which I’ll have more to say soon).

Beaton struck a conciliatory note after Thursday’s Court of Appeal decision.

“We had to go through this process because a majority of councillors wanted to appeal,” he said. “Now we have the result, it’s time to move on.”

The Municipal Government Act requires that a decision to change from a warden to a mayor must be taken at least nine months before the next election, or before February 15. Because several councillors were ill, the meeting scheduled for last Monday night was rescheduled for February 1, and the mayor vs. warden question will be on the agenda.

It’s the last council meeting before February 15, so one way or another, the final shape of the next municipal government should be known by Monday night.