Victoria council byelection set for Dec. 12

Fresh off a provincial election, Victoria residents will head back to the ballot box in December to fill a vacant seat on city council.

Councillors agreed Thursday to hold a byelection on Dec. 12 at cost of up to $430,000, although city staff hope to deliver it for less.

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The budget is more than double the $170,000 set aside for a byelection earlier this year before it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

But city clerk Chris Coates said the pandemic will impose additional costs because of the need for extra staffing, voting machines, venues and protective equipment in order to keep everyone safe.

The city still has $80,000 left from the initial budget, and council approved an additional $350,000 to cover the anticipated costs.

“We certainly don’t want to come back to council partway through the process and say, whoops, that we need a bit more,” Coates said. “So we feel that this is an all encompassing number, and we intend to deliver it for less.”

Mayor Lisa Helps said she was glad that staff will try to bring the election in under budget.

“But we don’t want to compromise public safety and if it costs $350,000 plus whatever we’ve already set aside for [personal protective equipment] and hand sanitizer and Plexiglas and this and that — that’s the cost of holding a safe election during a global health pandemic,” she said.

Council appointed Coates as the chief election officer and authorized him to ask the province for a ministerial order that will allow for enhanced mail-in voting and other pandemic-related measures.

The city was unable to hold the byelection on the same day as the provincial election on Oct. 24 because the municipal election process takes far longer under the Local Government Act.

A provincial election can be held within a 32-day period, while a municipal vote takes about 70 days, a city report says.

The council 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.

Nine candidates were campaigning for the job before the provincial government cancelled the April 4 byelection in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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