The election race for would-be Invermere municipal politicians is over, just a week after it began.

Councillor candidate Jack Caldbick withdrew his nomination late last week, citing personal reasons. Caldbick’s withdrawal means there are now just four councillor candidates running for four councillor seats, so all the candidates are now acclaimed to their spots. Incumbent Invermere mayor Al Miller was already acclaimed to a second term, with no opponent coming forward to vie against him in the mayoral race.

So for what could possibly be the first time in the district’s history, Invermere voters will not be casting ballots for local political candidates in the upcoming local election on Oct. 15. Voters will still have a reason to go to the polls, however, not for politicians but instead for school board trustee candidates — the single Invermere school board trustee seat has two candidates running (incumbent Ryan Stimming and challenger Matt Chapman), and the Pioneer strongly encourages local residents to turn out and exercise their democratic right to vote in that race.

Still, the utter lack of competition in both the mayoral and councillor elections in Invermere will no doubt come as a shock to many residents, given that the district has historically been the most electorally competitive of the Columbia Valley’s municipalities. 

Up until about 15 years ago, it was typical for Invermere elections to feature at least two mayor candidates, and somewhere in the neighbourhood of eight to 10 candidates duking it out for the four councillor spots. That began to change over the course of the past decade, with 2014 seeing the mayor acclaimed and just five councillor candidates running for the four seats. In 2018, two candidates contested the mayoral seat, and six candidates ran for the four councillor spots. Now this year, there are just enough candidates — one for mayor and four for councillor — to exactly fill the spots.

The decline in local Invermere candidates echoes a broader trend seen in municipal elections elsewhere across the country this fall — notably in Manitoba, in Toronto and in smaller Ontario municipalities, where the eye-catching shortage of candidates has generated plenty of local headlines, and even a few national ones as well.

Both Invermere mayor Al Miller and longtime Invermere council member Gerry Taft (who has been either a councillor or mayor since 2002), told the Pioneer that a whole slate of councillor and mayor candidates being acclaimed is certainly very uncommon for Invermere, if not completely uncharted territory.

“I can’t recall a total acclaim ever happening,” outlined Miller.

“It’s definitely not within my memory. Not ever since I’ve been on council, and not when I was too young to be on council, but still loosely followed municipal Invermere elections, which goes back to when I was in elementary school in the 1980s,” said Taft. “It’s never happened between now and then, and given that Invermere was only incorporated in the 1950s, and given the history of local politics, this may be the first time. The history of Invermere politics…they were very contentious back in the 1980s and I believe before that too. It was a wild time, with council members suing each other and district staff being fired. Elections were a big deal.”

With that sort of history, it’s hard to imagine the local populace would have been complacent enough in those days for there to have been a lack of candidates, explained Taft.

And although the ensuing decades, from the 1990s onward haven’t been as contentious or acrimonious, they have almost always attracted a decent number of election participants.

“There may have been a few times in recent decades when the mayor was acclaimed. That happened to me once (in 2014) during the three times I ran for mayor, but there was always a healthy election, with multiple councillor candidates,” added Taft.

Both Miller and Taft told the Pioneer they are hopeful this year’s acclamation is an anomaly.

“It’s always good to have an election, instead of acclamation. I can only hope that it means our community feels we are doing a good job as a council, and that’s why we don’t have a lot of candidates,” said Miller.

“It could perhaps be a sign that there’s a loose acceptance from the public and that people are happy with the direction the district is going now. When there’s a lot of problems and things are deeply contentious, that often sparks a high number of people to run for council,” said Taft. “But it wouldn’t be good if it was like this all the time. I’m anticipating it will be different four years from now.”

National and provincial pundits commenting on the low number of municipal candidates in Ontario and Manitoba cited the increasingly polarized political atmosphere, even at the local level, as reason that many would-be candidates may have opted not to run in those elections. 

Does the same apply here?

Miller said it just might, noting, “There has been some polarization happening in the past few years. Some folks sitting at the (Invermere council) table have been subjected to quite a lot of negativity through the pandemic and such, and have had enough. I do get a feeling that some people who were sitting on the sidelines, considering running in the future, have looked at that, and thought ‘Maybe I don’t need that.’”

He pointed out that the deeply-held and often strongly opposing viewpoints that came along with pandemic are different from the party-based polarization at the national level, but that they still carried a sting, which was felt by some council members.

“Sometimes there were decisions that we made as council and sometimes we were simply following a provincial health order. We didn’t have a choice as a council. But it made some residents really unhappy, and they directed their unhappiness at us. I know that for a fact,” said Miller. “I can understand why would-be candidates would see that and think they don’t want to be a part of it.”

Taft on the other, suggested that the low number of candidates in Invermere “might just be a natural ebb and flow.” He noted that the workload and commitment involved with being a councillor has increased over the decades (council terms are now four years, but prior to 2014 council terms were only three years, and there are more committee meetings and boards to sit on) and wondered if that may be deterring some would-be candidates.

“It’s interesting that we have acclamation in Invermere, which is the main hub of the Columbia Valley, this year, while in the outlying communities, such as Canal Flats or Radium Hot Springs there are full elections. In the past it’s been the other way around. If there was acclamation or ‘soft elections’ (with only one surplus candidate) it was in Radium or Canal Flats. That’s completely switched,” said Taft.

Both Miller and Taft implored local residents who care about Invermere to think about running at the next municipal election in 2026.

“If you’ve got an interest in improving the community in which you live, you should consider putting your name forward as a candidate. It’s challenging, certainly, but interesting and ultimately very rewarding,” said Miller.