In Peachland, democracy in action was luck of the draw in 2018

Peachland picked its mayor by having her name drawn out of a box

There were plenty of stories that grabbed the headlines in the Central Okanagan in 2018, but likely the weirdest was the election—or rather selection—of Peachland’s mayor.

After voters voted and counters counted, and then re-counted, and then counted a third time, the result came down to luck of the draw—literally.

After the initial count, a recount and a judicial recount of the just over 1,600 votes cast for all five candidates who were vying for the mayor’s job, incumbent Cindy Fortin and one challenger, Harry Gough, remained tied at 804 votes apiece.

So, as per the district’s rules of what to do in such a situation, a B.C. judge, popped two identical pieces of paper with Fortin’s name and Gough’s name on them into a small green wooden box, gave it a shake and plucked out the winner’s name. Democracy in action.

Days earlier, on election night, it appeared Gough had defeated Fortin by just one-vote. But, with the closest of results possible, a recount was assured. That recount led to the discovery of an extra vote for Fortin, so the tie meant B.C. provincial court judge Ellen Burdett had to oversee another recount.

To do so, Burdett and three B.C. sheriffs jumped into a black SUV at the Kelowna courthouse, drove south to Peachland, and set up shop in the cozy confines of Peachland’s community hall.

There, in a surreal all-day session where only the judge, the sheriffs, the candidates and their respective representatives, along with pre-approved district staff to do the re-recount and pre-approved reporters were allowed to attend, the laborious process recounting every vote under Burdett’s watchful eye took place.

And, in the end….nothing changed. The result was still a 804-804 tie between Fortin and Gough.

So Burdett turned to the little green box.

In that moment, for a few seconds, the serious business of electing the municipality’s mayor took on an almost game-show-like feel. And in the end, it was Fortin who got to come on down because the price was right.

One of the first thing’s she said she planned to do once she was sworn-in again was to have her council look at a better way of breaking ties in Peachland elections in future.

And it served as a bit of wake-up call for other municipalities to check how they would deal with such a situation, too.

Elections, after all, are held to do the will of the people. Drawing names out of a hat—or in this case a box—kind of nullifies that.

Important political decisions, even local ones in small municipalities, should not come down to chance.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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