There’s only one candidate who wants to be mayor of Tofino, but the Vancouver Island community is facing an election – costing $10,000 to $12,000 – because the only other candidate was too late in departing the race.
For undisclosed personal reasons, pharmacist George Smith pulled out of the race this month, but missed a deadline under the Local Government Act. He gave his notice less than 29 days before voting day on Jan. 26, 2013. That means preparations are under way for an election – notice of the vote was mailed out this week to households in the community of about 1,800 people – although only candidate Josie Osborne wants the job.
The only person who could void the need for that vote is Bill Bennett, the provincial Minister for Community, Sport and Cultural Development. In a statement Tuesday, Mr. Bennett’s office would say only that staff are reviewing the request to allow for Mr. Smith’s exit, and the minister will make a decision once the review is done.
In the meantime, the community is preparing for the election.
“We’re proceeding as if an election is going to be held on the 26th,” said Braden Smith, the chief election officer. He said it’s a challenging situation, noting the cost of the vote will be equal to an increase of half a percentage point in Tofino’s property taxes.
Ms. Osborne calls the cost “not insignificant” for the community, beloved for its beaches and the nearby Pacific Rim National Park along with other area attractions.
If there is no decision, advance polling for the election will be held Jan. 16, adding to the costs for a vote that may not be necessary.
All of this began when mayor Perry Schmunk stepped down late last year to take a job in Vancouver, reportedly in the restaurant industry. Mr. Schmunk’s resignation took effect Jan. 1, prompting the election.
Mr. Smith said in a statement that it was a “good time” for him to try to “help” Tofino because of the “bizarre decisions” of the current and past councils. He cited his experience as co-owner of a pharmacy. “[I] have faced the challenges of hiring/firing, attracting and keeping staff many, many times in this community.”
His platform, disclosed last month, included a commitment to decisions “based on good economic common sense” as well as “open communication” between council and the electorate except where prohibited by legislation. “Closed meetings shall become the exception,” it said. He also promised to volunteer his time and not accept any wages for being mayor. “My wages can go directly into fixing infrastructure, potholes, firehall, etc.,” he said in a statement.
But he pulled out of the race on Jan. 1. In an e-mail response Tuesday, he cited “personal reasons,” but offered no other details. His office said he was in Hawaii and unavailable for comment.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” said Ms. Osborne. “I certainly respect his decision to withdraw. It’s just that it’s unfortunate that the timing is such that we may be faced with having to have an election.”
Ms. Osborne, a former fisheries biologist who now runs the Tofino Botanical Gardens with her husband, has lived in Tofino for 14 years. The chair of Tourism Tofino said she was at a place in her life where she welcomed the responsibility of being mayor and grappling with such issues as reconciling the local stock of infrastructure with the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the community each year.
“The world comes to visit Tofino and yet Tofino is just a small village,” she said, suggesting the contradiction leads to challenges and opportunities.
Ms. Osborne said she expects that Mr. Bennett will understand the issue as one of fiscal prudence. “We don’t have to spend the money we don’t need to spend.”