Back to the polls as 'campaign unconventional' begins

Squamish's incumbent MLA talks about elections amid COVID-19 and outlines some of his platform

Local incumbent MLA Jordan Sturdy said that Premier John Horgan's call for a snap election is something that gives politicians a bad name.

"In my mind, this is an unnecessary election," Sturdy told The Chief.

"We're now going to be five weeks without a government essentially [in] what I believe is to be a pretty critical time in the evolution of the disease that's dominating our society right now. So really pure political opportunism is what it is."

On Sept. 21, Horgan called for an election one year ahead of schedule, putting to rest weeks of speculation that an early vote would take place. The election will be held next month on Oct. 24.

Under B.C.'s Constitution Act, the elections are to occur in October four years following the last vote. However, the act also says that this is subject to the lieutenant governor, who may dissolve the legislative assembly when they see fit.

Horgan told reporters on Monday that Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin granted his request to dissolve the assembly.

While many, such as Sturdy, have criticized the premier's move, Horgan has maintained that since the COVID-19 pandemic will be a fact of life next year, it's best to get a mandate from the public now.

At the moment, the NDP maintain their hold on government only through a power-broking deal they hashed out with the Green Party.

As of dissolution on Sept. 21, the NDP had 41 seats, as did the BC Liberals. The Greens held two seats, and were thus able to tip the balance of power.

The election comes as the province grapples with a state of emergency. At the same time, it arrives at a critical junction in the course of the disease.

Uncertainty swirls as people wonder how COVID-19 will behave during the flu season, and if students' return to school will create new avenues for the disease to spread.

On top of all this, there's now the question about how to run an election campaign when public gatherings over 50 are prohibited.

"It's going to be campaign unconventional, that's for sure," said Sturdy.

"Although we are learning to adopt the Zoom world. And I guess we're going to be relying on that in many respects."

There are questions about how events like the all-candidates debate will be held, he said.

Currently, there's been no word if a Squamish event will be broadcast online, but Sturdy said he expects this — and many other customary election events — to migrate to the internet.

Another wrinkle in pandemic-era campaigning is the need for new candidates to get nominated and witnessed, he said.

Sturdy says he expects that virtual witnessing will become the new normal, as collecting signatures by hand will be a possible exposure risk.

He also said that he was confident that Elections BC will figure out a way to allow people to vote in a safe manner.

As of Monday, the government agency posted on its website that anyone can request to vote by mail, and no special reason is required.

The request can be made online at the Elections BC website.

At the moment, it seems Sturdy's campaign platform will have many familiar features from past elections.

He said that he will be working on trying to make regional transit a reality — an item that has been on the wishlist in Squamish for years.

"I'm not taking my foot off the pedal there," he said.

He noted that he was surprised that the current provincial government didn't offer more support for this measure, as many local governments have been moving together in expressing interest for the initiative.

"I was always surprised that we didn't get more support," Sturdy said.

On the economic front, Sturdy said that it's important that Squamish diversifies and becomes a hub of knowledge and employment.

While tourism is a great economic driver, he noted that unforeseen catastrophic events can shut down that source of revenue.

"If, in 20 years, we see that Squamish evolves into essentially a suburb of Vancouver, then as community leaders I think we will have failed," he said.

Sturdy also expressed support for Quest University.

He said he'd like to see the school — which is facing significant financial challenges — survive.

Sturdy said the Ministry of Advanced Education can help circumstances.

He said that he met with Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark and Quest University president George Iwama in December 2019.

In his mind, the minister didn't seem receptive to assisting a private institution.

Sturdy promised that the Sea to Sky will remain an area of focus for him.

"I think you understand that the Sea to Sky is a place that I know well and [am] invested in and have a lot of ideas…[in part to] make it a better place and, more specifically, help the people who live here have a better experience and have better opportunity," he said.

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