Newly elected Liberal MLA Doug Bing said his original intent was to stay on Pitt Meadows council until the start of 2014 before stepping aside.
That way, the city would save the cost of a possible by-election, he said.
Now after consulting with local constituents, Bing is going to see through on his original plan and will stay on for the remainder of the year as a member of Pitt council.
“I believe the community doesn’t want to incur the costs of a by-election and I’m going to stick to my guns,” said Bing, who said he will step aside in January of 2014.
The cost of a by-election in Pitt Meadows has been pegged at $15,000.
Bing said in addition to saving election costs, he’s no longer drawing a salary from the municipality for the next year-and-a-half, thus adding to the overall reserves for the city.
A Pitt Meadows councillors pay for 2012 is $24,780.
He reiterated that his discussions with constituents since his win in the May provincial election played a part in his decision. He also said that he’s not sure there’s enough time left in the current lifespan of council to justify an election. He said it would take a councillor too long to get up to speed before they had to head back to the polls in November of 2014.
Bing said the busiest time on his schedule is now, while the legislature is in session until July 25. After that, he feels he will be able to head back to Pitt Meadows and focus on local issues before the legislature returns to session in the fall.
“I don’t think it will be a burden to do both jobs in that period of time,” said Bing.
Bing asked council for a leave of absence in early June, but was unanimously turned down.
Coun. Janis Elkerton said she didn’t support a leave of absence because she felt like it left the door open for Bing to simply walk back into council and possibly vote on critical issues with little or no input leading into it.
“That didn’t strike me as fair,” said Elkerton. “I don’t think that’s part of the democratic process. I thought that we made it clear that we were looking for an election because all of how council voted.”
She said she’s also concerned there could be possible conflicts of interest with overlapping duties working as an MLA representing Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows and his role advocating for the people that elected him as a city councillor.
Bing refutes any notion that a conflict of interest will be a concern.
“I’ve been on council for the past for the past eight years, so I know what a conflict of interest looks like,” said Bing. “I will step aside from a vote if there’s even the slightest hint of a conflict.”
Coun. Bruce Bell doesn’t question Bing’s loyalties to Pitt Meadows, but argues there’s just no way the newly elected MLA can fulfill his duties in the legislature and on council.
“No, he can’t do both jobs effectively,” said Bell. “That’s a big job there. He has a steep learning curve ahead of him.”
The two-term Pitt Meadows councillor said he wishes Bing well and hopes he grows into his role in Victoria, eventually leading to a cabinet post.
As far as serving the interests of Pitt Meadows, Bell said council would have been better served letting someone else fill his seat.
He said there were a number of qualified people who ran in the last municipal election who may have stepped forward.
Bell said a by-election would have granted a new councillor the chance to go through the budget process this fall and prepare them for a possible second term.
“There are lots of qualified people in the community that can do the job,” said Bell.
He also discounted the notion of the cost savings of a by-election. He said the offset in savings from Bing’s wages, as well as other positions currently not filled within city staff would cover the cost of a by-election.
Bing is one of at least 10 sitting members of local councils across the province who were elected as an MLA and said he decision is not unique.
Coquitlam city council voted 4-2 in favour of holding a by-election in October to replace councillors Linda Reimer, who won as a Liberal in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Selina Robinson, elected for the NDP in Coquitlam-Maillardville. Election costs in Coqwuitlam are estimated to run around $150,000.
Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton, who was elected as an Liberal MLA, has offered to cover the cost of his own by-election, putting up $35,000 of his own money.
Langley, however, won’t be replacing its mayor. Its council voted against filling Peter Fassbender’s seat, leaving the mayor’s chair open for the next 16 months. Fassbender won in Surrey/Fleetwood under the Liberal banner.