Editorial: One departure is far too soon, one arrival is far too late

Voters in Victoria are getting an election that most did not want, not quite yet, but are not getting a chance to vote in an election that they need. What is wrong with this picture?

On Oct. 24 the good people of Victoria will be able to vote in a provincial election that few outside of the opportunistic NDP seem to want. Even New Democrats have reason to frown, as the early election will also mean the early departure of one of the most respected and beloved politicians this province has ever known: Carole James.

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James topped the polls in Victoria-Beacon Hill four times, getting more than half of the ballots cast three of those times. She led her party out of the wilderness after it was reduced to two members in 2001.

She has been a model of stability and caring. Voters might not agree with everything she has done, but let there be no doubt: James has always done what she believed was the right thing for the province. When she announced that she would not seek re-election because of health reasons, there were genuine tears from politicians on the opposite side of the legislature.

Horgan’s early election call ends her career one year early. It’s a shame, but in the end, it’s politics.

Over at Victoria city hall, it’s politics of a different sort. When will the city fill the council seat left vacant when Laurel Collins resigned after her election as an MP? It’s been 10 months, which should have been plenty of time to pick one new councillor.

The election was supposed to be on April 4, but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the premier believes it’s safe to hold an election. The premiers of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick agree. The Americans are voting in a few weeks as well.

Why is it so tough for Victoria city council?

Is it because everything in the city is seen to be so wonderful that there is no need to bring council up to full strength? Anyone who believes things are fine should wander through downtown. That should offer an immediate reality check.

The pandemic shifted the balance on downtown streets. It drove thousands of office workers away just as rising crime and social decay became more evident. People who have been lured downtown to live in recent years, breathing life into the area, now hesitate to step outside. Beyond anti-social behaviour and the rise in petty crime, there is the annoyance of pop-up protests such as the one that closed the Johnson Street Bridge on Tuesday.

There is no easy solution for homelessness; there is not even a simple way to categorize those who need housing. Nor are there easy answers to the afflictions that leave people on the street. City council deserves credit for wading in to help the afflicted — but it also deserves criticism for doing little to allay the legitimate concerns of others. People who want to walk through Centennial Square free of harassment, who worry about their bikes being stolen, feel like they don’t count.

The downtown core is burning, and councillors are fiddling. It could take years to fix this.

It’s no secret that some are clamouring for changes to council. Whether those people represent a majority or a noisy minority can only be determined with a byelection — and the longer that byelection is put off, the greater the perception that those currently in office are afraid of the voters electing someone who might bring another point of view to council debates.

Enough. If voters believe that Victoria is on the right path, they will vote accordingly. If voters are appalled, they will vote accordingly as well.

With the provincial election underway, we can’t expect a byelection to be called in Victoria for a while. But, for the sake of democracy, don’t delay it any more than it has to be.

As we prepare, with sadness, to watch Carole James leave the provincial stage, the least we could ask for is this: A sign that Victoria council cares about the entire city.

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