Weyburn city council has two new members joining four incumbent councillors, plus Mayor Debra Button won her race handily, in one of the lowest voter turnouts in city history on Wednesday.
There were a total of 2,124 voters for city council, which is only about 25 per cent of the estimated 8,500 eligible voters who could have cast a ballot in the city election.
It is not known if this is the lowest turnout the city has ever had, but city clerk Donnette Richter said it is the lowest at least since 2003. To go back further would require a physical search of records from past city elections. Municipal Affairs advised they do not keep these kind of statistics.
In the mayoral race, incumbent Debra Button easily trounced challenger Bruce Croft by 1,683 votes to 262, or 86.5 per cent of the vote to 13.5 per cent. There were even fewer voters for the mayor at 2,107, or 24.9 per cent of eligible voters.
On council, incumbents Winston Bailey, Dick Michel, Rob Stephanson and Nancy Styles will be joined two newcomers, Mel Van Betuw and Laura Morrissette. New challengers Connie Nightingale and Barry Dickie were not successful in their bid for a council seat.
Speaking to her win for her third term as mayor, Button said, “I have to admit I was as excited today as when I first ran. It’s nerve-wracking to put your name on a ballot.”
She added her congratulations to challenger Bruce Croft for stepping up to put his name on the ballot so voters could have a choice, but expressed disappointment the mayoral race lacked spark due to the lack of campaigning by her challenger.
As for the low voter turnout, Button wasn’t sure what the reason behind that was.
“It wasn’t as exciting a race as it could have been. Whether it was voter apathy or the weather, who knows? There could be a number of reasons. I do want to stress, as I said at the forum, my desire to serve has not waned. I’m as excited as I’ve ever been in the past for the opportunity, and I’m thankful for those who went out to vote,” said Mayor Button.
Newcomer Mel Van Betuw garnered the third-most number of votes with 1,546, behind only Winston Bailey (1,551) and Dick Michel (1,562).
“I’m very excited. I look forward to getting on council and learning the ropes, and representing the citizens of Weyburn,” he said on election night. “There will be a huge learning curve. I look forward to getting installed as councillor and putting some ideas out there.”
As to the low voter turnout, he said a lot of people he talked to are satisfied with the job that council has been doing, and noted that affordable housing will continue to be an issue that will need council’s attention.
The other new member of council, Laura Morrissette, is also looking forward to working with the other councillors and the mayor.
“I know I’ve got a lot to learn,” she said, adding she is hoping to maybe go on the airport board, as well as those relating to arts and culture.
Asked about the turnout, she said she was disappointed, but noted there were friends who had not voted before who did come out to support her in the election.
“You don’t have the right to complain if you don’t vote. You don’t have to necessarily run for council, but you can vote for people who you think will do a good job,” she said.
Morrissette pointed out that the FCM workshop, held at City Hall for new women candidates, helped her a lot and was a good learning experience.
“I’m looking forward to the next four years,” said Nancy Styles. “I’ve got a few projects in mind for the parks in the city.”
On the voter turnout, Styles said, “I was very surprised at the turnout. You can always try to get people to come out; I guess voters were happy with the status quo. I did go to St. Michael and gave them a challenge to go to their parents and urge them to get out and vote.”
Returned for his first full term on council, Winston Bailey said, “I’m just honoured the citizens of Weyburn have given me this opportunity again to represent them, and I will work hard to comply with their wishes.”
He commented he was not that surprised at the voter turnout, saying, “I think it was pretty typical in looking at history. I wish more would come out.”
Veteran councillor Rob Stephanson said of the turnout, “I hope that means they’re happy with what I’ve done in the past term, and what we’ll continue to do in the future.”
He added the council race had good candidates running, while the mayor’s race didn’t have as much interest because one candidate didn’t get out to campaign.
He noted an effort was made in Nova Scotia to address low voter turnouts for civic election, by setting up an on-line system where people could vote over the course of a week rather than just one day. Stephanson said he’s curious to find out what their turnout was like as a result, and whether this might be tried here.
Fellow veteran Dick Michel said, “The turnout didn’t surprise me, but it still shocks me at times; there are 8,500 voters in the city, and they always say things are working fine, but still, you have a right to vote in this country. They should take advantage of that. I certainly thank the citizens who have supported me in my fifth term.”
He added running for this term felt like it did for his first term, as he was just as nervous. “I don’t take anything for granted,” he said.
For first-time candidate Barry Dickie, he said, “There was nothing horrible about my experience. I think I learned some things, but there were no big surprises. I was a little bit shocked by the lack of voter turnout. That’s kind of ridiculously low.”
As far as his own campaign experience, he said he had no negative comments or experiences from it, and while it’s too early to know if he will try again, he said, “I certainly wouldn’t be scared off from taking part again.”
Connie Nightingale, the other first-time candidate, noted she had some personal challenges that came up, and she had to give her time to these situations.
“Sometimes we are confronted with challenges in life that are not our own, and when those moments arise, the right thing for a person to do is accept that responsibility. So, due to sudden unfortunate circumstances, I had to reluctantly neglect campaigning so I could concentrate on the challenges life handed to me,” she said, adding she found the voter turnout “disappointing”, given we live in a democratic society, and this is part of the responsibility of living in it.