Victoria byelection might get pushed to 2021: staff report

It could be early next year before voters get the chance to fill a vacant seat on Victoria city council.

A staff report going to the city’s committee of the whole on Thursday says workload pressures, planning requirements and the challenges of holding a byelection in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak might delay the vote until the first quarter of 2021.

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The report from city clerk Chris Coates and deputy city manager Susanne Thompson indicates that staff are still weeks away from returning to council with budget requests and suggested dates for the byelection.

In the meantime, they’re recommending that council ask the provincial government to expand the opportunities for people to vote by mail-in ballot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As well, staff have asked the provincial government to consult pandemic modelling and suggest “suitable windows” for safely holding the byelection so there’s less risk of having to suspend proceedings again.

The bylection was originally slated for April 4, but Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson postponed the vote in March to protect residents from the spread of COVID-19, saying she had signed the ministerial order after consulting with public-health officials and local governments.

Robinson’s ministry released new guidelines in July to help municipalities hold byelections safely. At the time, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the byelection would be held this fall.

Stephen Andrew, who intends to run for the seat, said Tuesday that a further delay to next year is unacceptable.

“We’re about to go into a budget process,” he said. “I think to leave that seat empty during that is completely disrespectful to the citizens of Victoria.

“They clearly are unhappy with the way things are being run in the city and they want a different voice at the table.”

Andrew noted the city has found the money to engage with people in homeless camps and build a skate park, so it should be able to hire people to organize a byelection if existing personnel are overworked.

“The first priority they have, really, is to ensure that the democratic process is robust and open and available,” he said. “So, pack up everything else, put it to the side and let’s get this election going. It’s ridiculous.”

The seat has been vacant since November 2019, when Laurel Collins resigned after winning the Victoria riding for the NDP in last year’s federal election.

Andrew and eight other candidates were campaigning to replace Collins before the byelection was postponed in March.

The budget for the April 4 byelection was estimated at $170,000. The city spent about $90,000 before the vote was postponed.

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