Citing flood chaos and cost, Hay River leaves council seat empty


Hay River will leave empty a town council seat that has been vacant since the passing of Peter Magill in April.

At a meeting of the mayor and seven remaining town councillors on Monday this week, the option of holding a by-election to fill the seat was rejected.

Council could also appoint another eligible resident, which ordinarily would be the highest-ranked unsuccessful candidate at the last municipal election.

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In this instance that would be Kim Brockway, who placed ninth in 2021, missing out on election to office by seven votes.

But Mayor Kandis Jameson said a by-election would take time and money away from administration as staff work to recover from this year’s devastating flood. The mayor said the onboarding of a new councillor would be similarly distracting.

“I don’t think it’s fair to bring somebody on and not be able to go through what each one of you had an opportunity to,” Jameson said, referring to the comprehensive orientation offered to councillors immediately following an election.

“Money is a huge factor and we don’t really understand how much money we’re going to get out of the federal government for the disaster. It’s not a whole lot of money, but every dollar counts right now.”

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Staff had estimated that a by-election would cost $7,000. Choosing not to fill the vacancy also saves the money that would be paid to an eighth councillor as an honorarium.

“A new councillor will require a separate orientation, which is not planned or budgeted and will impact administration’s ability to deliver strategic initiatives planned for 2022,” read a briefing note for council prepared by senior administrator Glenn Smith.

Councillor Keith Dohey said the town needn’t “go down that road of tying up administration at this point in time. I think it’d be a difficult time to onboard somebody, right now.” Councillor Brian Willows added the town had set the precedent of leaving vacant seats open in the recent past.

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But Councillor Robert Bouchard said the best option would be a by-election following a dramatic year.

“We’ve gone through a lot of different things in the community,” Bouchard said. “There are some people out there who are probably more engaged now.”

Councillor Jeff Groenewegen reinforced that point of view. “There’s a need for that extra set of hands to carry the workload,” he said. “That work has probably only been increased by some of the difficulties the town has been faced with over the course of the past year.”

A motion to leave the seat vacant ultimately passed with the support of councillors Dohey, Willows, Linda Duford and Emily Chambers.

Peter Magill passed away in April having been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour only in February. He is remembered for his outspoken love of Hay River and boundless enthusiasm as the town’s tourism officer prior to joining council last year.