Saanich North and the Islands, Saanich South: Even in the leafy loveliness, no escaping COVID

As the Oct. 24 provincial ­election approaches, Jack Knox is ­looking at Vancouver Island’s 14 ridings and some of the issues affecting them. Today: Saanich North and the Islands, and ­Saanich South.

Jack Knox mugshot genericAs the Oct. 24 provincial ­election approaches, Jack Knox is ­looking at Vancouver Island’s 14 ridings and some of the issues affecting them. Today: Saanich North and the Islands, and ­Saanich South.

When COVID chased us into our homes, Adam Olsen bought a tent and set it up on his patio.

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Cut off from his office, Olsen used the tent — it’s the kind with walls — as the workplace from which he did his duties as MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.

The setup took a bit of getting used to, he acknowledges. “It was either frigid cold or smoking hot, depending on the weather.” He’d be deep in debate with another politician when his nine-year-old would tug on Olsen’s sleeve, asking for tomato soup for lunch.

In the riding next door, MLA Lana Popham found herself similarly disoriented. She went from travelling the province as agriculture minister to wandering her neighbourhood alone, trying to figure out how to connect with her Saanich South constituents. “There were not a lot of ways to communicate.”

She ended up writing hundreds of thank-you cards, which she left on the doorsteps of those who had put paper hearts in their windows to support front-line workers.

Yes, we’ve all had to learn to adapt, haven’t we? Even on the Saanich Peninsula, with its rolling farmland, sandy beaches and leafy neighbourhoods, there’s no escaping the pandemic, which affects us in ways big and small.

A quick trip around the area, stopping a handful of people at random and asking for their slice-of-life experiences, confirmed this:

• A normal Thanksgiving would see Nancy Craven dine at a table of 16 or so. This year, she and her husband dined alone, albeit on a full turkey dinner made up of dishes (hers was sweet potato casserole) traded among friends. “We met at the door of their place, swapped bags, and that was it,” she said outside Saanich Commonwealth Place.

• Guarding the gate to the Tseycum First Nation, the one they erected to restrict access after the pandemic arrived, Charlie Bill lamented what has disappeared from life. “All our ceremonies got cancelled because of COVID,” he said. No cultural events. No potlatches.

There’s also a personal cost. “I have a daughter in Tacoma. I can’t even cross the border. That’s kind of sad.”

• Electrician Geoff Houston didn’t lose business to COVID. With everything on pause due to the lockdown, clients decided they might as well get construction projects done.

No, what Houston finds troubling is the wedge hammered between those with differing views on the pandemic. “My worry is that it’s dividing us as a community,” he said while fastening a ladder atop his vehicle on Sidney’s Beacon Avenue.

• As a retired nurse, M.J. Duggan figures she’s shielded from many of the pandemic’s effects. It sure hit her social life, though. For Duggan and her husband, summer entertaining was limited to one other couple at a time, outside, and no sharing snacks. Not the most calamitous of coronavirus consequences, she said outside the Red Barn Market at Mattick’s Farm, but one of those little things.

• Roger Kawano is in the food business, sometimes sells directly to stores. Yet even now, with restrictions eased, he only visits those stores maybe 20 per cent as often as he used to. People miss contacts like that, or gathering in crowds, seeing friends. “Your human, personal interaction has been compromised,” he said, standing in the parking lot at Broadmead Village. Kawano sees a lot of people being worn down mentally. “When you lose that sense of normalcy, it dwells on you.”

Statistics back that up. An Angus Reid Institute study released last week showed the pandemic’s toll: “This year, the percentage of Canadians who can be categorized as The Desolate, those who suffer from both loneliness and social isolation, has increased from 23 per cent of the population to 33 per cent. Further, the percentage suffering from neither has dropped by nearly half, from 22 per cent to 12 per cent.”

That raised the question of how governments should respond to the pandemic, not just where we work, but where we live, in places like the Peninsula and the Gulf Islands. What should it do for individuals?

The main parties’ signature campaign promises are financial. The Liberals would drop the seven per cent provincial sales tax for a year, then bring it back at three per cent until the economy improves.

Total hit to the provincial treasury that first year: $7 billion.

The NDP would stick cash straight into pockets, a COVID-recovery benefit of up to $500 per person and $1,000 per family, depending on their income.

That would carry a $1.4-billion price tag, and would come in addition to the $1.5 billion worth of spending rolled out as part of the government’s COVID-recovery strategy announced Sept. 17, which itself came on top of the $8 billion the province had already spent, with all-party support, in response to the pandemic.

The Greens are miffed, saying they helped build the plan rolled out in September, too, only to see the NDP use it as a plank in their campaign platform.

There’s more to pandemic response than billion-dollar initiatives, though. Included in the Green platform is a promise to develop a Loneliness Strategy. The Liberals say they would figure out a way to let family members visit seniors living in care homes. The NDP promise better staffing for those homes. In this election, getting us through the pandemic is the priority for many.

In Saanich South, New Democrat Popham, who was first elected in 2009, is being challenged by Liberal Rishi Sharma, who ran for this seat in the 2013 election. The Green is Kate O’Connor, who turned 18 — the minimum age for a candidate — a week ago. (Should she win, she’ll be able to eat in the legislative dining room, but won’t be allowed to have a glass of wine with her meal.)

In Saanich North and the Islands, the Green Party’s Olsen, who served as interim party leader after Andrew Weaver stepped down, performed a rare feat in 2017, becoming the only candidate on Vancouver Island to defeat a sitting New Democrat MLA, Gary Holman.

The NDP, represented by ­Central Saanich councillor Zeb King, is keen to claw back the riding. Stephen P. Roberts, a retired investment bank executive, will contest the seat for the Liberals for the third straight election.

jknox@timescolonist.com

THE CANDIDATES

Saanich South

• NDP — Lana Popham* — lanapopham.bcndp.ca

• Liberal — Rishi Sharma — bcliberals.com/team/rishi-sharma

• Green — Kate O’Connor — bcgreens.ca/kate_o_connor

Saanich North and the Islands

• Green — Adam Olsen* — adamolsen.ca

• NDP — Zeb King — zebking.bcndp.ca

• Liberal — Stephen P. Roberts — bcliberals.ca/stephen-roberts

* incumbent

2017 RESULTS

Saanich South

• NDP — Lana Popham 11,921 (42.47 per cent)

• Liberal — David Calder 8,716 (31.05 per cent)

• Green — Mark Neufeld 7,129 (25.39 per cent)

• Libertarian — Andrew Paul McLean 177 (0.63 per cent)

• Vancouver Island Party — Richard Percival Pattee 130 (0.46 per cent)

Voter turnout: 70.63 per cent

Saanich North and the Islands

• Green — Adam Olsen 14,775 (41.95 per cent)

• NDP — Gary Holman 10,764 (30.56 per cent)

• Liberal — Stephen P. Roberts 9,321 (26.46 per cent)

• Independent — Jordan Templeman 364 (1.03 per cent)

Voter turnout: 74.14 per cent

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