Serious candidates only, please

We received some criticism online and on Facebook this week for Tuesday's front-page story "Mayoral challenger gives rambling, erratic interview."

Some felt Mark Nielsen's first-person account of trying to get Willy Ens to tell us a little about himself and why he thinks Prince George residents should elect him mayor was unfair and disrespectful.

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Well, respect is a two-way street.

When a reporter just trying to do his or her job respectfully asks basic questions to an individual seeking the support of voters for an important public service job that will pay $127,000 a year, and gets a hefty dose of disdain in return before being hung up on, well, this ain't Fox News.

Our job is to report the news, not to kiss the asses of people who make a mockery of interviews with journalists or running for and holding political office with their buffoonery and alternative facts.

For those rational residents who can see the obvious differences between Lyn Hall and Willy Ens, here's a startling thought.

If sometime between now and Monday afternoon at 4 p.m., something were to happen to Hall that would force his name to be withdrawn from the ballot - anything up to and including his tragic and unexpected death - Ens would find himself elected mayor of Prince George by acclamation.

That's according to Section 98 of the Local Government Act.

If the prospect of a fellow who can't remember where he worked in Kitimat, who thinks Hall has done nothing but demolish and tear things down in his four years as mayor and hangs up when asked his age getting accidentally elected mayor frightens you, feel free to call up Hall to inform him he's not going out on his motorbike this weekend because he'll be encased in bubble wrap for his own protection.

Hall is 63, by the way, because he answered the question when asked because age and experience do count for some people when going to vote.

Now if something were to happen to Hall between Monday afternoon and the general voting day of Oct. 20, then it gets a little fuzzy and a decision has to be made in Victoria.

"In that situation the Local Government Act provides that the chief election officer must notify the provincial minister of the circumstances," wrote Walter Babicz, the city's general manager of administrative services and the chief election officer, in an email.

"The minister must decide on whether to approve a request by a candidate to withdraw from the election during that period, or make a decision on what happens due to unforeseen circumstances otherwise preventing the candidate from holding office.

The minister may order "that the election is to proceed, subject to any conditions specified by the minister," or "that the original election is to be cancelled and that a new election is to be held in accordance with the directions of the minister."

In other words, it's ultimately up to the minister to decide what happens.

While the provincial government can fire elected school boards at will and there are several methods for political parties and outraged constituents to remove elected MPs and MLAs or at least force them to face voters in a byelection, there are few options at the local government level.

As long as residents are qualified to run for office (18 years of age or older, a Canadian citizen, a resident of B.C. for at least six months and otherwise not disqualified by law) and fill out the required paperwork, they can let their name stand.

If elected, there is only one narrow path to remove a mayor or city councillor from office, Babicz wrote.

"Once elected, the Community Charter (provincial legislation) provides for a process involving an application to the BC Supreme Court for disqualification of a member of Council based on certain pecuniary conflict of interest violations, the failure to make the required oath of office, unexcused absences from council meetings for a period of 60 consecutive days or four consecutive council meetings (whichever is the longer time period), or making unauthorized expenditures," he explained in an email.

"Currently, there are no other statutory provisions providing for a challenge to "an individual's fitness for office" once elected to municipal council."

On one hand, this is good because it should be difficult and approaching impossible to remove anyone from office who was democratically elected by voters in a fair election (which is what makes the province firing school boards so repugnant). On the other hand, there seems to be little recourse for outraged residents who might want a mayor or city councillor gone after a serious legal or moral infraction.

Or for residents who suddenly find themselves represented by a mayor who was inadvertently elected by acclamation.

In that spirit, cheers to the good health of both of the mayoral candidates, so residents can decide Oct. 20 who's the most serious and qualified to hold that position.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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