A Newfoundland mayor’s clean sweep

A move by a small-town council to block Betty Moore from being re-elected backfires spectacularly


Greg Locke

Along the north shore of Conception Bay, Nfld., municipal elections are often routine affairs. Voters turn out in ho-hum numbers, incumbents tend to keep their jobs, while sometimes whole councils are acclaimed when no new candidates step forward. Which makes what happened on voting day in the town of Clarke’s Beach, population 1,400, nothing short of historic.

For the past four years, the tranquil seaside village has been the home of one of Canada’s most rancorous town councils. A raging feud between long-time councillors and the town’s popular mayor, Betty Moore, threatened to keep town business at a standstill. The acrimony came to a head last fall when councillors voted to strip citizens of the right to vote directly for mayor, returning to an earlier method where citizens voted for councillors, who would later choose the mayor from within their own ranks. At the time the mayor and council were locked in an increasingly bitter battle with wild accusations from both sides—that the mayor was acting like a dictator, or that councillors were staging a coup. The conflict came to a head when the council voted in favour of a $40,000 land purchase while Moore, who said she wasn’t told of the vote, was away at a scheduled event.

But if, as critics claimed, councillors thought citizens might shrug off the matter, that strategy backfired. On Sept. 24, a record number of people—75 per cent of eligible voters—came out to cast ballots in support of a staggering 25 candidates—more than in any municipality in Newfoundland outside of St. John’s. And after the votes were tallied, the only survivor was Moore. “I’m just thrilled,” she says. “I have all these new people around me and we’re looking forward to working together.”

In the months before the campaign, Moore says she was unsure how it would unfold. While many people approached her to say they were unhappy with town council, she worried there wouldn’t be enough new candidates on the ballot to bring change to the town. “I kept telling everyone, people need more choices,” she says. So she was “totally surprised” when 25 candidates stepped forward for the town’s seven council seats. In another first for Clarke’s Beach, the majority of elected councillors were women.

At 27, Crystal Brett is the youngest of the new councillors, who will be sworn in Oct. 3. A native of Clarke’s Beach, Brett says she was very familiar with the previous councillors, many of whom had been in office since she was a child. She decided to run because she felt the council had become defined by “bullying and tension.” “Clarke’s Beach is my home, and I’ve always believed that you should stand proud for your town,” she says.

Due to the rejigged ballot system brought in by the previous council, the decision of who will become mayor has yet to be made. Moore says council will almost certainly revert back to the old rules so that voters can decide for themselves who will be mayor in the next election. In the meantime, she says she intends to nominate the councillor who received the most votes (Moore received the second-highest share of votes after her nephew, Wayne Snow) and says she will not regret losing the position. “Right now, I’m totally committed to working with council to improve Clarke’s Beach,” she says. After the year she’s had, she says, that’s ambitious enough.


A Newfoundland mayor’s clean sweep

  1. ‘many of whom had been in office since she was a child.’

    Yeah there’s the problem…,buncha ole guys,been around forever and yet the town hasn’t gotten any better. Lotsa places like this in Canada.

    • Yeah lotsa places with elections. Canadians ‘claim’ they don’t like career politicians, but actually we demand it of them. No one gets elected without name recognition, the longer in the game the more we like it, because it makes it easier for ourselves.

      • Yeah there are guys in there for 30 years….and if they haven’t accomplished something in 30 years they’re never going to…but they go on getting whatever pay there is, enjoy whatever prestige there is, and head off to conventions and so on. And we let them.

  2. This is a true example of democracy at work. The residents of Clarkes Beach stepped up and offered choice to the voters, they voted smart and change resulted. No longer Canada’s most dysfunctional town! Very proud of my hometown now!

    • I’d like to learn from this. Was there neighbourhood association (whether formal or informal) activism? How did this come to work?

  3. Way to go Betty!!!

  4. I think that politicians should work on improving the standard of living for Canadians, like livable work wages before looking to themselves (i.e. BC gov/ and their 11% raise that they gave themselves).

  5. having the temerity. to strip a citizen of the right to vote for one’s mayor!! the jerks who had side-stepped due process were shown the door by those that they thought too stupid to think for themselves….THE VOTER…looks good on them…well done Clarkes beach

  6. I wonder if Gord Perks and Adam Vauhan are reading this, I’m sure Rob Ford will hear about it

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