Plebiscite on divisive shop issue to go ahead

County residents will be able to go to the polls to give voice to their thoughts on the county shop project.

County residents will be able to go to the polls to give voice to their thoughts on the county shop project after a petition calling for a plebiscite on a borrowing bylaw was found sufficient.

The decision was made at the monthly County of Stettler council meeting on Wednesday, June 8, after councillor James Nibourg moved that the county go ahead with the plebiscite. Nibourg has been one of the more vocal supporters of the shop project.

This is the second time council has received a sufficient petition challenging a borrowing bylaw for the shop building project. The first time, in March, council voted to kill the bylaw rather than accruing the cost of a plebiscite, estimated to be about $25,000.

The petition author, Brad Mappin, said at the time he was unhappy council denied the county’s electorate a say in the matter, and when council put forward a new borrowing bylaw – essentially the same with different amounts – Mappin gathered signatures for another petition calling for a plebiscite.

The second plebiscite squeaked in with just enough valid signatures at 527. To be declared sufficient, the petition required 510 signatures. With enough valid signatures, the petition was accepted and council unanimously decided to hold a plebiscite on the matter.

The cost of the plebiscite is expected to be in line with the original estimates.

The County of Stettler will be holding two information sessions on the matter on Tuesday, June 21 between 6-8 p.m. and Wednesday, June 22 between 2-4 p.m. at the existing county shop facility.

Advance polls will open at the Stettler Agriplex on Thursday, June 23 between noon and 6 p.m.

On Monday, June 27, county residents eligible to vote can vote at multiple locations between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.

In order to vote, people must have a primary residence in the county, be 18 years of age, and have resided within the county for the six months prior to the poll day. Residents do not have to own land.

If the plebiscite results show that the voters are against the borrowing bylaw, council is required to vote against the bylaw, killing it. If voters vote in favour of the borrowing bylaw, council is required to vote in favour of the bylaw, advancing it.

Mappin, who has been the face of the movement against building the new shop facility at this time, said he was pleased with the result of the second bylaw petition.

“All we’ve been doing all along is asking for people to have a say, because they haven’t had a say,” Mappin said. “It’s the democratic process and that’s all we’ve been asking for all along.”

He said that while he is not against the need for a new shop, he believes building now would be the wrong choice, given the economic instability. However, if the vote shows county residents wish to see the new shop facility built, then he’ll support that decision, too.

“If that’s the wish of the electorate and the taxpayers, I’m glad,” Mappin said. “So long as we get a voice in the decision.”

Mappin filed a third petition, which appeared to ask council to cease movement forward on the shop project until after the next election. However, county CAO Tim Fox found that petition insufficient after seeking legal advice.

“Petition number three does not request a vote of the electors on a bylaw or resolution that was advertised,” Fox said in a press release. “The purpose statement of the petition is unclear, the wording is vague and open to multiple interpretations and poses multiple questions, and it is not possible to turn the purpose statement of petition number three into a bylaw that can be implemented by Council.”

Niki Thorsteinsson, director of communications with the County of Stettler, said that it was premature to estimate the cost of legal advice because the matter had not yet been concluded.

“The final cost (of the legal advice) will be public information,” she added.