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MUN political scientist says Sheila Fitzgerald case is “unusual”

Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald reflects on disappointments in 2018, but feels her town’s community spirit remains strong.
Sheila Fitzgerald, mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm, had to leave her job in order to run as Progressive Conservative in the St. Barbe – L’Anse aux Meadows district. - Contributed

Dr. Russell Williams says province could do more to encourage people to run for election

RODDICKTON, N.L. —

Before Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald put her name forward as the Progressive Conservative candidate for St. Barbe – L’Anse aux Meadows, she had a tough choice to make.

She had to quit her job.

Fitzgerald has been a social work supervisor for 21 years with the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development.

She says she was denied an unpaid leave of absence to run in the election because she was declared to be a “politically-restricted employee.”

Fitzgerald was told that in her position she had “discretion regarding the provision of services to persons, businesses or other organizations.”

She was left with a big decision – to leave her job in order to run in the election.

Dr. Russell Williams, head of the Department of Political Science at Memorial University, told The Northern Pen he could not comment on the specific details of the case, but he found Fitzgerald’s situation a bit unusual.

Normally, he says, someone in a public service position will have protections in order to get a leave of absence to participate in public life.

Beyond that particular case, Williams says he has concerns about obstacles being in the way of people hoping to participate in provincial or municipal politics.

He pointed out the province has a systemic problem recruiting quality candidates at both levels of government; in particular, the province, historically, has had trouble finding female candidates to run for office.

He wants to see the province do more to encourage more people – including more women – to run.

“We seem to be creating a situation where most people won’t take the risk of running for office and that limits the quality of representation and the effectiveness of government that we get,” he said. “Regardless of the details in any individual case, we should always do our best to allow people the latitude to participate in public life.”

“It should not cost her her job in order to run for office. I think if there’s discretion in that decision, the discretion was used poorly.”

Williams says it may also generate concerns about whether the decision was politically motivated.

“We also worry, all the time, about the extent to which preventing someone from running like that could be politically motivated, or at least perceived to be politically motivated, as well, in that she would be running against the government,” he said. “I think it’s wise to avoid those kinds of implications.”

Fitzgerald, Liberal incumbent Christopher Mitchelmore and independent Ford Mitchelmore are the three candidates in the district. No one is running for the NDP or the NL Alliance.

Christopher Mitchelmore, first elected to the district under the NDP banner in 2011, sat as an independent from 2013 to 2014 and was re-elected under the Liberal banner in 2015. In that election he had a landslide victory collecting 89 per cent of the ballots cast. Mitchlemore ran as the PC candidate in 2015, collecting 8.3 per cent of the ballots cast.

stephen.roberts@northernpen.ca

EARLIER STORYMayor contesting MHA in St. Barbe – L’Anse aux Meadows district

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