Has everyone caught a case of by-election fever?

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
August 26, 2017 - 6:38am

KAMLOOPS — Has Kamloops gone mad with civic fervor, or fever, as the case may be? The City puts out a call for applications for a few temporary jobs and gets swamped with people shouting “Pick me!”

When the dust cleared at 4 p.m. Friday — the deadline for by-election nominations — there were six in the running for mayor and 22 for City councilor.

That’s comparable to the sort of numbers for the general civic elections held every four years. In 2014, there were four candidates for mayor and 28 for councilor.

So the question is why? Why so much interest in a one-year job?

And who has a shot at emerging from the pack for this short-term proposition?

My thoughts on this, as I found out this week, haven’t changed much since 1985.

I don’t save everything I’ve ever written, honest. But a couple of days ago I was sorting through boxes of old stuff I hadn’t opened in years, and came across several file folders containing clippings of columns I’d written back in the ‘80s.

In the very first folder I opened, there was one sitting on top headlined “Familiarity will breed votes.”

It is dated Oct. 22, 1985 and was written on the eve of nominations for a by-election to replace Ald. Tony Milobar, who had resigned for health reasons.

At that point, there were seven people seeking the job. I referred to the “unlikely” chance of getting elected.

“I say unlikely because by-elections are the toughest way to get on council. In general elections, you have eight opportunities to make it, even if there are 20 people running….

“For some of the candidates, the likelihood of success is so remote that their names will do little more than add mild curiosity to the campaign.”

Then I mentioned a couple of candidates I predicted would run last and second-last and wrote this:

“… In municipal elections, it is much less what you are than who you are. Sad but true. People don’t vote for what you say, but for your name …. If they know your name and it hasn’t been associated with a bank robbery they’ll vote for you. If they don’t know your name, well, try again next year.”

I squirm a little as I read those words, for I like to think the substance of my own platform complemented name recognition when I first ran for mayor, but I think the recognition factor will be more important than ever in this very short by-election campaign.

By the time the kids are back to school and life starts getting back to normal after our hazy summer, voters will have all of a couple of weeks to get familiar with the candidates.

Which candidates will come to mind? Here are a few who have the sort of name recognition that might make voters consider them: Gerald Watson, Kevin Krueger, Ray Dhaliwal, and Kathy Sinclair for council. Bill McQuarrie and Ken Christian for mayor.

Make a note of those names and see if I was in the ballpark when the winners are announced on Saturday night, Sept. 30.

I also wrote in that column of 1985 that, “All of the above does not account for another phenomenon of by-elections, namely miserable turnouts. Of the more than 41,000 voters, 6,000 at the most will actually cast ballots, and that will only be because of the Sunday shopping plebiscite…”

Will the high number of candidates this year make a difference? It would be nice, but I think not. This year’s by-election has no referenda or plebiscites to tweak interest, but the fact there’s a mayoral race will help, a little. My optimistic guess is a 15 percent turnout, similar to what it was in 1985.

Considering the number of eligible voters in 2017 (likely around 70,000), that means the mayoralty can probably be won with less than 5,000 votes (or about seven per cent), a council seat with much less than that.

Such is the nature of by-elections. Not a pretty sight.