Councillors under IserveU risk breaking law: GNWT Official says councillors must consider more than e-votes; group says candidate contracts not legally binding
Evan Kiyoshi French
Northern News Services
Monday, September 28, 2015
Council candidates running on commitments to follow the wishes of registered voters online risk violating territorial legislation if their council decisions are based solely on e-votes, says the director of community governance for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
Bob Brooks, who recently retired from city council to take his new job, told Yellowknifer those elected to council will swear an oath of office obliging them to make decisions after council debate, while considering the "welfare and interests of the municipality as a whole," as according to the Cities, Towns and Villages (CTV) Act, as well as presented research. Brooks said councillors must consider a combination of things while in office.
"It's the responsibility of mayor and councillors to make the decision based on the input they've received and the research that they've done," said Brooks.
"You have to combine all those things together - not just the opinion of one group who will not have had the months worth of research."
The IserveU group isn't currently doing anything that contradicts the legislation, said Brooks. Any group can offer input to council members and councillors can get advice or input from as many contacts in the community "as is humanly possible," said Brooks, but the input needs to be weighed against research and matters brought forward in debate.
"All (a group) can do is provide preliminary feedback and insight," said Brooks, likening IserveU to a special interest group.
"It'd be just like going into budget meeting and the chamber (of commerce) saying we want you to keep it to a zero per cent (tax) increase. Then you go into that meeting and find out all the needs and aspirations you want to do and you say, 'oh well, we're going to try to keep to zero as much as possible but we've had to do point five.' Those things happen in the heat of the debate."
It's still unclear how his department would act should it receive a complaint but theoretically MACA can force a councillor to vacate his or her seat if it is found they have violated the legislation. He said a complaint could come from a fellow councillor or a member of the public. Nonetheless, all remains hypothetical for now as MACA has never encountered a situation like this before, said Brooks.
It's easy to prove a councillor is in non-compliance of the legislation for, say, missing too many council meetings but it will be a more difficult task to show a councillor is disregarding the "interests of the municipality as a whole" by basing his or her decision in council on how people vote on IserveU's website, said Brooks.
IserveU spokesperson Dane Mason said IserveU councillors, however, only use the input generated by the group's website as a guide, not as a directive.
"We'll be taking everything into account, it's not just IserveU," he told Yellowknifer when asked about the GNWT legislation referenced by Brooks. IserveU candidates do sign contracts stating they will vote according to the wishes of their e-constituents, said Mason last week, but those contracts are not legally binding. All that would happen should one of their candidates not vote as directed by e-voters is that IserveU would drop its endorsement of them.
"It's an agreement of good faith," he said. "It would be a tough one to back out of."
On Monday during a Q&A with another media outlet IserveU co-founder Paige Saunders said candidates don't sign contracts, appear only on video making their pledge. Out of 8,700 eligible voters, Mason said 700 are signed up to participate at the moment. He said IserveU hopes to pick up more participants after the election.
"The first vote might have a few hundred users, an important issue later on might see the usership go up to 1,000, a controversial decision with active decisions might quickly double that, and so on," said Mason.
"We're happy to see people signing up in advance, the real work for us begins after the Oct. 19 election to keep adding to the numbers," he stated in an e-mail. Mason said he hopes the platform will spread to other Canadian cities, since Internet voting systems are already active in Scandinavia and South America. He said the group's ultimate goal locally is to have city administration take over its voting system and administer the website.
"We'd like to have it run separate from our society," he said.
Mason, who is also a council candidate in the election, said if elected he will be stepping away from his spokesperson position with IserveU.