Premier John Horgan has deferred to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on every step of the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — except a surprise election call for Oct. 24.
“The election, of course, was not an issue I needed to raise with her,” Horgan told reporters as he announced the snap election. “She’s been working with Elections BC to make sure that should there be an election it will be as safe as possible.”
The election call also takes Health Minister Adrian Dix off the coronavirus pandemic, relieved of his day-to-day government responsibilities working side by side with Henry to campaign for his re-election. Provincial governments go into caretaker mode during elections, with the public service managing existing programs only.
Even with B.C.’s novel coronavirus infection rates hitting new highs with additional testing, Horgan said an election can be held safely.
“There will be a long period of advance voting, so there won’t be a big crush on election day,” he said. “Election day will be on a Saturday for the first time in a long long time, as well, of course, as mail-in ballots.”
Finance Minister Carole James is the only NDP cabinet minister to keep working during the election campaign.
James is among 15 MLAs retiring at the end of their current terms, which was scheduled to end in October 2021. James announced in March that she has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and would not run again in Victoria-Beacon Hill.
“The tradition is to have a stay-behind minister to work with the public service,” Horgan said. “That minister will be the deputy premier and finance minister Carole James. And I am sure that she will administer the government of B.C. to meet the needs of B.C.ers that arise, and I’m sure she will do us all proud.”
The election comes as B.C. schools deal with positive COVID-19 tests, daily cases increase in the general population and the health ministry approaches the seasonal influenza season with additional vaccine and testing capacity in the works for this fall and winter.
In his last official act before heading into an election campaign, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced tighter rules for liquor sales at restaurants and private events.
Horgan said the latest enforcement measures are aimed at younger people who have been careless and increased community infection.
Among the changes, no events can be held in banquet halls, nightclubs must cease operating as nightclubs and liquor must not be consumed on the premises by owners, operators or staff after 11 p.m. Liquor sales for on-site consumption must stop by 10 p.m. at private events and licensed restaurants, and private events such as wedding receptions have the same rules as hotels.
Fines remain the same — $2,000 for owners, operators and organizers who disobey Henry’s public health orders and $200 levies for individuals who don’t cooperate with restrictions at events.
“The challenge we have is that people are not abiding by the health orders that are already in place,” Horgan said. “That’s had an impact on night clubs, that’s had an impact on activities largely of younger British Columbians, and we’ve tried hard to get their attention, and we’ll continue to do that, as will Dr. Henry.”