Three more Island municipalities gearing up for byelections

As the City of Victoria prepares for a council byelection on Dec. 12, three more municipalities on Vancouver Island are planning to hold votes of their own early next year, barring another pandemic-related lockdown or postponement.

Tofino, Campbell River and Qualicum Beach will have to fill council positions vacated by three rookie NDP MLAs who won seats in last month’s provincial election.

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Josie Osborne, who took the Mid Island-Pacific Rim constituency, submitted her resignation as Tofino mayor last week.

She’ll join former Qualicum Beach councillor Adam Walker and Campbell River councillor Michele Babchuk in the NDP government following a virtual swearing-in ceremony.

Walker upset two-term Liberal MLA Michelle Stilwell to win the Parksville-Qualicum constituency, while Babchuk won the North Island seat previously held by Transportation Minister Claire Trevena.

Daniel Sailland, chief administrative officer in Qualicum Beach, confirmed in an email that the town has received Walker’s resignation letter, but has yet to set a byelection date.

“Town staff are working with the ministry to ensure that we are taking into account all the required changes that are needed as a result of the pandemic,” he said.

“Once this is complete, a report will be brought to council that will identify the timelines and the possible dates for the byelection.”

Bob MacPherson, Tofino’s chief administrative officer, said that the law requires council to appoint a chief election officer as soon as “practicable” after a seat becomes vacant.

“So we’re kind of watching what’s happening in the larger world and trying to decide what is, indeed, practicable,” he said. “We’re certainly mindful of how the COVID pandemic has been picking up speed.”

Ideally, he said, council would consider appointing a chief election officer in mid-December and holding the vote within 80 days of that appointment, possibly in early March.

In Campbell River, Babchuk said she plans to wait until after the MLA swearing-in ceremony before stepping down from council.

Deborah Sargent, city manager, said officials are looking at Saturday, Feb. 27 as a tentative date for the byelection, pending Babchuk’s resignation. That would allow for a nomination period in January that avoids the holiday season.

“Of course, we haven’t called it yet, but we’re looking at that as the date,” she said.

Sargent added that the city’s corporate officer will serve as chief election officer.

“She’s done an excellent job of keeping us informed of what all of the other municipalities on the Island and the mainland will be doing for their byelection processes,” she said.

“So there’s a lot of co-operation and co-ordination amongst the local governments. We’re all keeping in touch with each other.”

Everything could hinge on the pandemic, however, and whether cases continue to rise. Victoria’s byelection was initially scheduled for April 4, 2020, but was postponed by Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson to prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading.

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