The tied vote for Peachland mayor following October’s civic election resulted in a judicial recount that was settled by a judge drawing the winner’s name from a box. Incumbent Cindy Fortin’s (right) name was drawn. Her challenger was Harry Gough (left). —Image: Black Press Media photo

Year in review No. 5: Civic election was literally too close to call in Peachland

Incumbent Mayor Cindy Fortin’s name dawn after judicial recount fails to break tie with challenger

There were some who thought, heading into the civic election in Peachland, the race for mayor may be close.

But nobody knew how close it would turn out to be.

In the end, it required a B.C. provincial court judge to pick the winner’s name out of a box a week after the election.

As a result of the protracted manoeuvres required to declare a winner, incumbent Cindy Fortin held on for the closest victory by a municipal politician in B.C. in 2018.

Fortin opened herself up to a challenge, in large part, because of her previous council’s decision regarding a controversial development proposed for land on Beach Avenue near the district’s main business area.

A developer wanted to build a five-story commercial-residential building and many in the municipality felt the building would be too tall for the district, especially given its location near the lakeshore. In order to facilitate the proposed development, council amended the Official Community Plan. That angered many Peachlanders and opposition grew, especially online.

RELATED: Incumbent’s name drawn to settle who will be Peachland’s next mayor

When October’s civic election rolled around, four challengers stepped forward to try and unseat Fortin, including local businessman Harry Gough.

On election night, it appeared Gough had defeated Fortin by just one vote, 804 to 803. The closeness of the result necessitated an initial recount, which found an extra vote for Fortin and that resulted in a tie between her and Gough. As a result of that, a judicial recount was ordered.

In court, Gough complained about the election-night counting process, expressing concern ballot boxes were opened early and they were not kept secure. He opposed the judicial recount and said he wanted a second election.

But an investigation by district staff found no basis for his complaints and the provincial court judge dealing with the recount, Ellen Burdett, said that Gough’s complaints would have to be dealt with by the B.C. Supreme Court. Gough declined to take his concerns to the B.C. Supreme Court.

The judicial recount, overseen by Burdett and conducted by district staff at the Peachland Community Hall in front of only the judge, three B.C. sheriffs, a handful of pre-approved reporters and the two candidates, settled nothing. The totals for Fortin and Gough remained tied at 804 votes each.

So, in accordance with Peachland’s rules for such a situation, Burdett was forced to pick a name out of a small, green wooden box provided by district staff for just such a situation.

When Fortin’s name was picked, her immediate reaction was one of surprise.

“Wow,” she said.

Asked how she felt, Fortin replied: “you’ll have to ask me in a few moments when my heart stops fluttering.”

Once she calmed down, she said the first thing she planned to do once the new council was sworn in would be to ask that the way the district deals with ties in future civic elections be looked at, and a change, possibly to run-off election, be made.

“I would urge other communities to go over their bylaws and procedures and if they also say draw from a lottery, maybe change it to a run-off election,” said Fortin.

Peachland is now looking changes to how it deals with tied votes.

Fortin also said she wanted to bring the community back together after what was a divisive election, and she vowed to improve communications between the district and its residents, hold more public round-table meetings on issues and get the community more involved moving forward.

Meanwhile, in Kelowna, the mayoral election result was nowhere near as close, but equally interesting.

It pitted two former close friends, incumbent Colin Basran against former two-term Kelowna Chamber of Commerce president Tom Dyas.

Dyas’s surprise entrance into the race came as shock to Basran. His repeated campaign claims that leadership was lacking at city hall amplified what was, at times, a nasty tone during the campaign. It also drove a wedge between Basran and Dyas and ended their friendship.

While Basran stuck to the script he had delivered during his four previous years in office—a call for economic development coupled with more of a social conscience from city hall—Dyas went on the attack, blaming the lack of leadership he perceived at city hall for many of Kelowna’ problems, including crime downtown, homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, controversial shelters, rising taxes and what he felt were missed economic opportunities.

His election promises included partnering with a private foundation to build a large ranch outside of the city to house Kelowna’s homeless population, moving city hall off its current site and using the land to build new civic facilities such as a large performing arts centre. But while the ideas were there, he said he could not say how much it would all cost.

Basran questioned that, publicly asking at one point how it could be done while keeping taxes down.

In the end, most voters threw their support behind Basran and he won handily, taking 56.9 per cent of the vote.

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