As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens and the referendum on Kamloops Centre for the Arts draws nearer, the City of Kamloops said it is speaking with the province and consulting with another community that has polls set to open in April 4 about next steps.
Meanwhile, the city has activated its Emergency Operations Centre. With the new order from the provincial health officer banning public gatherings over 50 people, the city is identifying impacts to venues, programs and services.
Effective immediately, extra precautions include increased cleaning of surfaces and public areas, encouraging employees to stay home if they are feeling unwell and practising social distancing (a two-meter/6,5-foot buffer between people).
Kamloops voters are being asked whether they approve of the city borrowing up to $45 million to help build a 120,000-square foot, three-theatre facility at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seymour Street downtown. Advance voting is scheduled to start on Wednesday, March 25, and general voting day is set for Saturday, April 4. As of noon on Monday, there had been no changes to referendum plans, with the city issuing a press release in the morning, encouraging residents to vote.
Chief election officer Deanna Campbell told KTW she is scheduled to speak with the province on Monday.
“We’re just seeking guidance from them on how to proceed,” Campbell said. “I don’t have an update at the moment, but it’s a fluid situation. We’re playing it by ear. Obviously, we want to put the safety and health of the public and our elections officials first. If we need to explore other options, we will, but just waiting on some guidance form the ministry.”
Other options may include postponing the referendum, switching to mail-in voting or limiting the number of people allowed in polling stations at any given time. Legislation sets out strict rules on how referendums are run. More information is expected by the end of day Monday or on Tuesday.
“As of right now, we’re continuing on,” Campbell said. “We have a training session with our election officials scheduled for this afternoon. We’re continuing. We just want to make sure we’re prepared for alternatives, if we have to go that route.”
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said the decision is not made by elected officials and remains with the election officer. However, he added, he has been in close contact with Campbell and the City of Victoria, which is also in discussions with the province as it has a byelection scheduled for the same day as Kamloops’ referendum.
According to a news story in the Goldstream News Gazette, at least one Victoria council candidate has called for the April byelection to be postponed.
“I imagine whatever happens in either location will be the same, is my suspicion anyway, at this point in time,” Christian said.
Asked if he is worried about how COVID-19 will impact voter turnout, should the referendum go ahead as planned, Christian called the potential suppression of voters “the biggest concern.”
“Then you don’t get a result that is really representative of what the community really feels about the question,” he said. “That’s the concern. Of course, you’re measuring what could happen down the road.”
Kamloops Centre for the Arts Society president Norm Daley said he has no control over the referendum, noting with advance voting set to begin next week, the situation is rapidly changing.
“It’s such a fluid situation,” he said. “Money has been spent already and I don’t know that there’s a huge number of changes that will occur between now and two weeks from now. I think we should wait and see, but again, it’s not my decision.”
In addition to potential voter suppression, the economy has taken a turn for the worse and those who may have been on the fence could be questioning the taking on of debt by the city heading into a recession.
Daley was asked if he is worried about the results, should the referendum go ahead, due to the battering the economy has taken as a result of the pandemic.
“I’m sitting here going, I think what we have right now is individuals are in a panic mode or concerned,” Daley said. “I see that our country is a strong country. I see that there is a lot of angst that is occurring right now.
“I think at the end of the day, I need a couple of weeks to decide whether I’m really concerned or mildly concerned. I sit there and read some articles online and the sky is falling and other ones are not as concerned. At the end of the day, time is the only thing that is going to tell. Maybe it’s the project that needs to be built because it’s a stimulus that puts workers back to work. The government is doing a bunch of things with stimulus and trying to ensure. Maybe this is the project that is actually, as we come out of the scenario, the guiding light and really helping the community. You can look at everything in a number of different ways, but at the end of the day, I think we have to let some time play out.”