Champion and Giffin elected to Gabriola Fire Board

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, May 1 2019

Paul Giffin and Paul Champion were elected as Fire Board Trustees during the 2019 election for the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District.

Champion was an incumbent, while Giffin was nominated from the floor as a candidate.

Incumbent Wilf Caron and nominee Mike Taylor did not get elected.

Derek Kilbourn photo

There were 231 registered landowners on the sign-in sheets at the entry to the truck bay.

In 2018, there were 17.

Because the larger crowd was anticipated, the Board held the election in the truck bay of the fire hall, rather than in the training room as has been done since the fire hall opened.

At the 2019 election, 222 valid ballots were turned in (each ballot has space for the two names), for a total of 444 votes.

Giffin earned 116 votes; Champion earned 111; Caron received 110 votes; and Taylor received 107.

None of the candidates requested a recount on election night.

Unlike other local government elections, the Improvement District only takes votes on the night of the election - and there is no requirement for candidates to declare themselves or be nominated ahead of the meeting.

Caron and Champion had been clear with their intentions to run as incumbents.

This year’s election had potential repercussions in terms of the process the Board will take in hiring a new fire chief to replace current Chief Rick Jackson, who has said he will retire effective October 1, 2019.

Caron and Champion ran with the platform that they supported a process in which any member of the Gabriola Fire Department would be allowed to apply for the job.

The other two candidates did not address the issue in their speeches to the voters at the meeting.

Candidates were given the opportunity to speak in the order they were nominated.

Taylor went first. He’s been a resident of Gabriola for 15 years, and in the last year has been serving as one of the auxiliary firefighters on the department.

“From that position, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the quality of the way the department is run, the quality of the training provided, the inclusiveness of the department for anyone who wants to join and pitch in.”

He said the level of moral in the department is high, and doesn’t believe that is by accident, crediting Chief Jackson’s 25 years of service with “having to have a bit to do with that.”

Taylor also credited the late Albert Reed, a fire trustee of many years and the namesake of Fire Hall #1, with creating something “that works for us Gabriolans. It’s a legacy that we have and it is valuable and it’s the reason I’m running tonight. 

“I feel strongly this is something I want to be a part of, and working hard to continue this is something that doesn’t fade away for us.”

Taylor said he believes in seeking to reach consensus through honest discussion, and in a case where consensus can’t be reached with the fire board he says “you move on in business in a positive manner.”

Caron was next, and said since the replacement of the fire chief became a public topic of discussion; he’s been hearing several rumours which have no foundation.

He said there has been, for the past year, a concerted effort to influence the selection committee.

“We have been lobbied, up to and including the last week, with the objective of hiring one individual from amongst the very able applicants who could come from this department.”

He said he wouldn’t go into specifics because of the nature of the hiring process with respect to confidential matters until they are made public by a motion from the Board.

“Trustees have held this principle to a high regard.”

Caron said the Board has “an open and transparent principle that we are directed by the provincial government...as well as the improvement district objectives, through bylaws and by the Local Government Act by the province.”

Caron said these are then set by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

He said, “Myself and Paul Champion who are up for re-election have taken this principle to heart.

“We don’t have any hidden agenda, we have nothing of personal gain.”

He said what he is seeking is for all applicants to have a chance through an open and transparent process.

“The selection process...nothing has been decided yet.

“We [the trustees] are still in the process of describing to ourselves what that process would be.”

In summing up, Caron said, “It’s 2019, I believe we have gone beyond the days of employees requiring a patron to advance, leaving others of possibly equal or better merit to twist in the wind. The Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department and its Officers deserve better than that and so do the ratepayer/ taxpayers of Gabriola.

“Please give Paul Champion and myself a chance to complete the process that was started - let’s move on from the practices of 30 years ago, and engage all the people of this building with state-of-the-art equipment, and continue to keep Gabriola safe.”

Champion has also been a resident on Gabriola for 15 years. Champion said it was five years ago, following a request from Chief Jackson, that he ran for trustee.

“I’ve enjoyed and been proud of being associated with the fire board and the active department ever since.

“One thing that has annoyed both of us [he and Caron] has been the fact that we have had to suffer these extraordinary rumours and insinuations that have been going through the community - that there is some already deciding manner in which we will choose a particular member of the staff here, to become chief.

“Now, I can speak for all the trustees that nothing would delight [us more, than] to pick one of our own as chief. There is no question about that.

“What has been in contention, amongst some of the community, is the method by which we would choose such a person.”

Champion said what he wanted was to give the Board as much leeway as possible.

“There is a process...and that is to make it fair and open. Every member of the department does deserve to be interviewed and have a fair chance of getting this job. It doesn’t mean we are looking elsewhere, we have no ambition to pick someone from off island, but we need the freedom to do that if we needed to.

“Sometime after this election - we will decide these matters.

“It’s very important that we don’t exhibit favouritism to any one individual. We know we have fine firefighters, fine officers, and we’d love to pick one. 

“That’s the elephant in the room - Wilf and I feel it should be a real process, not one of favour.

“That’s really what we’ve been doing and we’d like to finish doing after the election if you’ll give us your support.”

Giffin spoke last saying he has been on Gabriola for the past 20 years, having served with the RCMP for 40 years, including with several detachments up and down Vancouver Island including Gabriola’s.

“I’ve seen the island from the policing side, the living here side, I think I’ve got a fair idea of how the island works and what makes it tick.

“Also, as part of my service, I served to deal with staffing issues, I understand what goes on and sometimes the turbulence that change causes.”

Giffin is with the Gabriola Island Emergency Communications, which operates out of the lower level of Fire Hall #1.  

“Currently, I serve with the Vancouver Island section of the Coast Emergency Communications Association.

“That exposes me to volunteer organizations from the Malahat to the north end of the island and west coast. So I have experience with dealing with volunteer organizations.”

He also serves with a search and rescue team operating out of the Nanaimo Airport.

“I’ve watched this department grow over 20 years. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the people of the department - they do a job that 90 per cent of the population would have a hard time relating to. 

“I think with my experience from outside, I can serve the board of trustees and have some input that’s probably coming from a clean slate.”

Once the candidates had given their speeches, volunteers were asked to come forward from the audience to hand out ballots to those present.

After people wrote their names on the ballots, the ballots were placed by voters into a single box at the front of the room.

Once ballots had been collected, the box was taken into a back room with counters and scrutineers, who then went through the votes.

Once the votes had been tallied, Board Chair Mark Noyon announced the winners as Paul Giffin and Paul Champion.

Appeal of election must be within two weeks of election date

According to staff from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, following an Improvement District election, anyone who voted may appeal the result to the BC Supreme Court in writing within two weeks of the election to accept or reject the election ballots. 

Staff stated that the Supreme Court may uphold the decision or result, or declare the election of no effect and order a new one. 

The election results must not be set aside because of an innocent irregularity, unless the Supreme Court determines that the irregularity affected the election result.

The procedures for electing Improvement District trustees are set out in the Local Government Act and each Improvement District’s “letters patent.” 

The Improvement District board of trustees has the discretion to decide all other election procedures. Boards of trustees that adopt written election procedures increase fairness and transparency, and ensure consistency from one election to the next. 

Improvement District trustees are elected for a three-year term (unless a different term of office is provided in the letters patent of the Improvement District) and are typically staggered so that at least one trustee position comes up for election annually. 

Elections occur at or close to the annual general meeting, which typically must be held between January and April. 

Local government elections are based on a four-year term. All mayors, councillors, and electoral area directors are elected concurrently in October.

Ministry staff said that if anyone wishes to read over the bylaws and constitution of the Improvement District, the Improvement District is the office of record for their bylaws and the appropriate contact for their bylaws. 

“In terms of providing copies of their bylaws, many Improvement Districts proactively provide bylaws on their websites, however, this information can also be obtained through a Freedom of Information request.”

The Sounder has made a request through email to the Fire Board for a copy of the bylaws and constitution, but as of press time had not received acknowledgement of that request or a copy of the requested documents.

Ministry Staff said there are currently 35 Improvement Districts with the authority to provide fire protection in BC.