Councillors weigh byelection possibility

Marvin Hunt and Scott Hamilton have been elected as MLAs and must leave their councillor jobs

Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt (left) and Delta Coun. Scott Hamilton have been elected as MLAs. They are now challenged to figure out to do about their old jobs.

Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt is trying mightily to keep his promise of preventing a costly byelection in Surrey this year.

Hunt, who was elected MLA for the B.C. Liberals in the riding of Surrey-Panorama, has long said he will do both jobs this year to avoid a civic byelection.

But Liberal Leader Christy Clark told caucus members who are also civic officials they should take an unpaid leave of absence until Jan. 1 next year, making a byelection unnecessary.

Hunt would require a majority of support from Surrey council in order to take that leave.

The Leader conducted a straw poll last of council last week indicating Hunt does not have the council votes needed to approve an unpaid leave.

Couns. Barinder Rasode, Tom Gill, Linda Hepner, Judy Villeneuve and Barbara Steele said Friday they don’t favour the move.

At Monday night’s regular council meeting, Hunt asked staff for clarification on the costs of a byelection and the options he has to avoid one.

It’s expected staff will report back to council on June 17.

Staff have already said a civic byelection would cost between $600,000 and $800,000.

Surrey has 52 polling stations in a general election and can’t cut that down too much because of the city’s large geography. Some savings may be found, which will be part of the report to council.

As for Hunt’s choices, those become far more complicated.

Without an unpaid leave of absence, Hunt is allowed to miss four consecutive council meetings before his council seat is rendered vacant.

Christy Clark said she will be calling a summer session to pass the proposed budget. That wouldn’t pose a scheduling conflict for Hunt because city council doesn’t convene in the summer.

According to the legislative and council calendars, he could probably squeak through the year without missing more than four council meetings.

That said, the decision will ultimately be up to Clark, who has intimated she’s not happy with the idea of people doing both jobs.

She has said there will be a very busy legislative calendar coming up, and a source close to the premier told The Leader last week being an MLA is a full-time job that will need their full attention.

Delta Coun. Scott Hamilton in Delta faces the same dilemma after winning the riding of Delta-North for the Liberals.

He’s a sitting city councillor, but believes he has the support of council to take an unpaid leave of absence. He estimates a byelection in that municipality will cost about $200,000.

“People just don’t want to spend that kind of money,” Hamilton said. “I’d have to pare back my committee work, and just concentrate on the council meetings themselves and the public hearings.”

He said he’s prepared to do both jobs, if that’s what all parties want.

But if  there’s a difference of needs, he said he’ll be taking the lead from his new boss.

“If the premier tells me she wants me to do something in Victoria that’s going to take an inordinate amount of my time over and it’s going to impede the work I can do on Delta council, I think it’s a no-brainer,” Hamilton said.

@diakiw

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