MLA Josie Osborne’s first call as B.C.’s newly appointed Minister of Municipal Affairs might come from her own community as Tofino is set to ask the province for some leeway around mail-in voting in the municipal byelection it needs to hold to replace its now former mayor.
Osborne took a leave of absence from the position when she was named the NDP’s candidate for the Mid Island – Pacific Rim riding and she officially resigned from the position after being elected to the provincial government on Oct. 24. She was named to the Municipal Affairs cabinet position on Nov. 26.
Tofino’s manager of corporate services Elyse Goatcher-Bergmann told the Westerly News that the district expects to hold the byelection in March and she has reached out to Ministry of Municipal Affairs to ask for an order that would allow Tofino to do “a few things that we wouldn’t normally be able to do.”
“That order is because of COVID-19 and some changes that we want to make to the election process to make things safe and really easy and accessible for people,” Goatcher-Bergmann said.
“Tofino recently amended our bylaw to allow mail-in ballots, but we’re still sort of hamstrung by the Local Government Act, which really limits who can vote by mail. Right now, it’s only those people who expect to be outside the municipality on general voting day or someone who has an illness or disability that prevents them coming to the voting place. So, it’s a pretty specific group of people that can vote by mail as the legislation stands, but of course now we’re in a global pandemic so we want to expand that eligibility to anyone who wants to vote by mail.”
She added that the town’s bylaw stipulates that mail-in ballots must be received two days prior to voting day, but the district is hoping to change that as well.
“We’re going to ask that they’re submitted by general voting day, but that’s something we have to ask the ministry about as well because our bylaw actually says they have to be submitted two days prior to voting day, but we want to make it really simple for folks,” she said.
The byelection will also include two councillor positions as councillors Dan Law and Andrea McQuade have both confirmed they will be running for mayor and both must resign their current seat in order to pursue the mayor’s spot.
Goatcher-Bergmann urges all residents planning to vote in the byelection to make sure they’re registered at elections.bc.ca.
“They can do that right now and that would be my biggest recommendation to anyone who’s interested in voting in this election, whether they want to do it by mail or in person. It’s going to go so much more smoothly for you if you’re already registered,” she said. “Right now is the best time to register yourself or check your provincial registration, I can’t stress that enough.”
She added that anyone interested in putting their name forward to run in the election should check the district’s website at www.tofino.ca for a downloadable nomination package expected to be available near the end of December. She said the nomination period will likely kick off around the middle of January.
Once the list of candidates is finalized, mail-in ballots will be ordered.
“The mail in ballot process will happen after we know who is declared a candidate for the election, because I can’t order ballots until I know everyone who is going to be on the ballot. That process takes a little bit of time, which is why it’s really important that if people do want to vote by mail, having their registration up to date now is going to help us down the line,” she said.
She said she expects to start mailing ballots out around the middle of February and reminded voters they will have a short window to mail them back.
“It’s really not a lot of time to turn around your ballot once you get it,” she said.
“This whole process is happening about a month out from general voting day, but of course it can take some time in there, even a few days on the other side of a weekend can make a big difference in mailing times.”
She added there will also be in-person voting and the district is looking at how other towns, like Victoria and Smithers, conducted recent byelections.
“We’re making a COVID-19 plan right now. Luckily other communities have gone through this before us,” she said.