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Council moves ahead with election law

Referendum questions rejected as council gave third reading to the election bylaw.

Choose the question correctly and maybe you’ll catch people’s interest and maybe they’ll get away from the boob tube and YouTube and get to the toll booth.

Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse likes the idea of coming up with a few questions, and adding the best to this November’s civic election ballot.

“If it’s carefully done, and is an issue we’ve identified as affecting the whole community … then it’s a useful exercise.”

Masse and Coun. Corisa Bell both wanted to consider the idea but were outvoted last week as council gave third reading to the election bylaw, to prepare for the November 2014 vote.

Final reading was to take place Tuesday.

The bylaw allows the election officer to vary polling booth times and requires each candidate to have 10 signatures, instead of only two.

“We weren’t in a big hurry in terms of a time crunch. There’s lots of time to go. I think we could have had a little better discussion,” Masse said.

He said as an example, one possible question could be a vote on if Maple Ridge should have a new museum.

“I’m not saying we need a museum, I’m just trying to pick an example of a community-wide issue.”

It might have been worthwhile waiting to see what other cities will do, he added.

“Everybody’s stuck with the same issue. I don’t think our numbers are any worse than average.”

Maple Ridge is missing out by not looking at ways to get more people to the polls, said Coun. Corisa Bell.

Ballot boxes could go in shopping malls and sports events and special events. The election should have been promoted at Canada Day.

She was frustrated when council just passed the election law without taking the time to look at options. Vancouver and Surrey are trying different things to interest voters. But instead she said Maple Ridge wants to continue to leave it to voters to get to the polls.

Previous get-out-the vote campaigns haven’t worked, she said.

In the last municipal election, 25 per cent of eligible residents voted. That’s down from a turnout of 29 per cent in 2008 and 31 per cent in 2005.

“You put polling stations were people already are to make voting convenient. We don’t want to have discussions about what we can do differently because we want to keep everything the same,” Bell said.

She favours adding the issue of municipal garbage collection to the ballot.

“Why don’t we get the real cost, put that on the ballot, and say, ‘taxpayers, it will cost you this amount of money.’ “

Chief elections officer Ceri Marlo though said councils usually don’t get involved in running elections. “I can’t think of any cities where councils do that.”

She cited the 2012 Citizens Survey that said most people who don’t vote, either didn’t know the candidates or were simply out of town.

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie though disagreed with adding questions to the ballot, saying it could raise expectations or disappoint voters if council didn’t act according to the public will. She disagrees with the concept of referendums in general saying people aren’t as informed on the issues as politicians.

“You are elected to make those infomed, tougher choices, that maybe other people don’t have the information on, but if they had it, they’d say, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ “

She said council has “fully explored” the issue of garbage collection and said it’s not an issue for most people.

Ashlie, who’s constituency assistant for Liberal MLA Doug Bing, also disagrees with the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure demanding that TransLink have a referendum on funding.

“I don’t agree with it personally. I think that would bring out an emotional vote and you’d again end up with elected people who are supposed to roll up their sleeves … and make the tough deicisons for the majority.

“And when you do not do that, I think that you tie yourself down like California has done, where they just referendum themselves into complete inability to govern. They’re a complete financial ruin because they did not do the tough work.”