Contest appears to be Andrew vs. Hardman, as other prominent candidates bow out.
THE CITY OF VICTORIA’S by-election for a seat on Council, likely to occur this autumn, will look quite different from how it appeared in March, before it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Two prominent candidates in the spring by-election campaign won’t be running this fall.
Rachael Montgomery, a registered nurse who had suspended her campaign to rejoin her colleagues at Island Health, told FOCUS that she plans to continue working in health care. “At this point, I’m not making any plans to run,” said Montgomery in an email. “I am excited with the work we are doing within healthcare and I’m committed to supporting our people and communities from within the healthcare system.”
Jeremy Caradonna, who works in the province’s Climate Change Secretariat and teaches environmental studies at UVic, is entering provincial politics instead. His electjeremy.ca website has been retooled for a campaign to become “the next MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill,” and a sign-up page instructs readers to join the B.C. Green Party, so they can vote for Caradonna in the riding’s nomination race. In an August 14 email to supporters, Caradonna wrote: “I hope to retain your support as a candidate for provincial office. When I began my campaign for city councillor, I never imagined I would be running provincially in the same year. But a lot has changed in 2020.”
Consequently, the contest for a Council seat is shaping up as one mainly between former broadcaster Stephen Andrew, who has already revived his campaign online, and community researcher Stefanie Hardman, under the banner of the Together Victoria elector organization. Hardman confirmed to FOCUS in an email that she will be running again, but said that “out of resepect for an appropriate electoral process, I have not been actively campaigning during this interim time.”
The narrowed field of prominent candidates — and recent events — will surely change the dynamic of the campaign described by FOCUS back in March. Montgomery, a former secretary of the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, and Caradonna both had backing from environmentally focused voters, and it’s hard to predict who those voters will support instead. The Black Lives Matter demonstrations and concerns about policing might draw some voters to Together, which successfully lobbied City Council this summer to eliminate police street checks, and to hire fulltime staff for a new Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Stephen Andrew, on the other hand, has been conducting online forums and surveys registering neighbourhood concerns about homeless camps in City parks, and a recent surge in violent crime. He says 80 people have signed up to volunteer on his campaign in the past two weeks.
The City of Victoria is required to hold a by-election to fill the Council seat formerly held by Laurel Collins. COVID-19 protocols will push the cost to more than $400,000
On July 29, the provincial government released new guidelines for by-elections under COVID-19, requiring each municipality to come up with a plan that considers the health and safety recommendations of the Provincial Health Officer and WorkSafeBC. These could include physical distancing and/or plexiglass barriers to take sworn declarations from candidates or voters, expanded mail-in voting and advance polls, curbside voting, and sanitizing voting booths and ballot-counting machines after every use.
Door-knocking campaigns and in-person candidate forums typical of past elections will also be nearly impossible.
City of Victoria staff will present a report to Council in September describing how this might work, and identifying possible dates for the by-election. Given the time City staff will need to prepare for the vote, it likely won’t occur until November at the earliest.
The socially-distanced by-election will also come with a hefty price tag. The City earlier budgeted $170,000 for the vote, but City finance director Susanne Thompson told councillors on August 6 that she expects it to cost $250,000 more than that.
The City is required to hold the by-election according to Section 54 of the Local Government Act, which allows a municipality to defer a vote only if an elected official resigns less than a year before a general civic election. Laurel Collins officially resigned last November, and the next civic election isn’t until October 2022.
According to Victoria’s City Clerk, candidates who were part of the cancelled spring by-election will have to file new nomination papers for the fall contest, and new candidates will be able to join the race.
“In terms of the by-election, the Ministerial Order that was passed in March cancelled the entire election process, including the rescinding of my appointment as Chief Election Officer,” Chris Coates said in an email. “What this means then is that the entire process starts from the beginning and is a brand new process. Any candidates must start from the beginning as well, so that means it is not limited only to candidates that filed during the cancelled election.”
This summer, candidates in the cancelled spring by-election filed campaign finance disclosure statements with Elections BC. Together Victoria spent $39,873 on its spring campaign, and got $35,971 in donations, including $2,099 from former councillor (now MP) Laurel Collins. Montgomery spent $28,010 and got $22,269 in donations, including $1,200 from downtown businessmen Gerald Hartwig and Rob Reid, and environmentalists Carolyn Whittaker and Naomi Devine. Andrew spent $8,578 and got $11,468, including $1,000 from lawyer Kevin McCullough and realtor Scott Piercy. Caradonna spent $9,151 and took in $7,816, mainly from smaller donors.
Elections BC told FOCUS in an email that campaigns in the fall by-election “will be re-starting from zero in terms of spending, fundraising and disclosure.” Candidates will be permitted to re-use their signs from the spring campaign, but “any materials from a previous election used in a new election must be disclosed at their fair market value.”
FOCUS asked all nine candidates who ran in the spring if they will try again this autumn. Neighbourhood advocate Riga Godron says she will run, focusing more this time on “how the by-laws around daytime park camping are being enforced, (or rather not being enforced)” and “fully funding the Victoria police to perform the important duty that they are responsible for, most notably public safety.” According to statements she filed with Elections BC, Godron spent $13,323 on her spring campaign, and received donations of $2,424.60 from her husband and each of her three young children.
Military veteran Keith Rosenberg says recent events have “doubled [his] resolve to run for and change the city council,” and that “a lot of people are ashamed of what our current city council has let our city become.” UVic lab instructor Alexander Schmid also says he will run again, expanding the focus of his campaign from transportation, public trust, and the role of neighbourhood associations to include “rational health measures and support for public safety.” Rosenberg spent nothing on his spring campaign, and Schmid spent $709.
Online pundits have also wondered if political consultant Mike Geoghegan, who ran in Victoria’s 2018 mayoral election, might take a crack at Council this time. Geoghegan, currently working on contract for the Tŝilhqot'in National Government in Williams Lake, told FOCUS in an email: “I am still very interested in politics and hope to be making an announcement with regards to that within the next few months. But it will not be at the municipal level. So no I will not be seeking any municipal office in either Victoria or Saanich in the foreseeable future.”
Ross Crockford is a Victoria journalist and former lawyer.
Edited by Ross Crockford