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OPINION: Snap Election could slow down pandemic response on critical issues

Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung cites concerns for small business and Strathcona encampment
Strathcona Park homeless encampment. Photo Bob Kronbauer

The calling of a snap election has raised concerns from worries about the safety of voting during Covid-19, to putting politics front and centre in the grip of a global pandemic, and leaving the cross-party collaboration seen during the response to this health crisis behind.

As a city councillor, I see the impact first-hand. Dropping the writ for a provincial election effectively shuts down key discussions Vancouver needs to have with the Province, including on the Strathcona Park encampment and how the City and Province could come together on solutions to provide timely relief to campers in the largest tent city in the country, as well as to area residents as the weather turns colder, sanitation conditions worsen and crime increases. 

As one resident puts it, the snap election is the icky icing on the rotten 2020 cake we’re all being served.

Not to mention that the coming weeks and months are mission critical for our small businesses’ survival. Programs like CERB and the CECRA - the well-intended but unsuccessful commercial rent assistance initiative - are ending and evolving. We’ll all be watching anxiously to see how residents and small businesses fare. The ability of all levels of government to respond quickly in their respective roles has been a critical part during these unprecedented times.

Consider the temporary expansion of restaurant patios in Vancouver. We did our part to get the program going as fast as possible with city staff moving with rapid speed to expedite approvals. But we also needed the Province’s help to amend liquor regulations to expand restaurants’ service areas beyond their existing footprints to make it work. 

Without that program, many restaurants say they wouldn’t be operating now. The economics with 50% capacity restrictions just don’t add up for many. Recently, Vancouver Council approved my motion to extend temporary patios into fall and winter months. Luckily, we received Provincial liquor extension approval literally right before the writ dropped. These are the kind of relief measures that could literally be left hanging while we deal with this snap election.

With surveys showing over half of restaurants could fail in the next 90 days, not to mention other sectors, every week matters to keeping the doors open. The ability to shift policy quickly matters. We’re not just talking about a month until election day October 24; the question is when is post-election going to be?

Elections BC shows over 3.4 million registered voters and the number of voters going for mail-in ballots will be the highest it’s ever been; up to 30 to 35 percent of ballots could be cast by mail. Mail-in ballots could take two weeks or more to be counted not considering close races in competitive ridings. So that puts us well into November before we’d even have a new government sworn in.

That’s two more months of rent payments for small business, weeks of Strathcona residents feeling unsafe in their neighbourhood and homes, and of unsheltered campers exposed to cold and rainy weather unless the city goes it alone. I’d rather see a sitting government in place to help steer through choppy waters and navigate the uncertain seas ahead.

Cooperation between all three levels of government has been crucial for responding to the pandemic driven economic and social challenges. Since we can’t jointly move forward with new initiatives or funding while the Province is in caretaker mode, we’ll just have to hold on tight and hope we don’t have curveballs thrown at us during a second phase.

Sarah Kirby-Yung is a first-time Vancouver City Councillor and former Vancouver Park Board Chair and Commissioner