City Hall

Victoria by-election voting starts next week. Here's what you need to know.

Ten candidates are vying for Laurel Collins's seat, offering competing policies on housing, transportation, climate change and more.

By Omar Washington
November 26, 2020
City Hall

Victoria by-election voting starts next week. Here's what you need to know.

Ten candidates are vying for Laurel Collins's seat, offering competing policies on housing, transportation, climate change and more.

By Omar Washington
Nov 26, 2020
Joe Mabel / Flickr
City Hall

Victoria by-election voting starts next week. Here's what you need to know.

Ten candidates are vying for Laurel Collins's seat, offering competing policies on housing, transportation, climate change and more.

By Omar Washington
November 26, 2020
Victoria by-election voting starts next week. Here's what you need to know.
Joe Mabel / Flickr

Victoria is holding a long-delayed by-election on Dec. 12. Eleven candidates are on the ballot — though only 10 are still running — to fill the City Council seat vacated by Laurel Collins, who now serves as Victoria’s Member of Parliament.

Initially set for early April, then postponed by the provincial government in March to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the by-election will seat the 8th member on a council that has been serving short-handed for more than a year. 

The new councillor will be thrust directly into solving problems and setting policy in BC’s capital in the middle of a cascade of events stemming from the pandemic. The initial lockdown this spring brought Victoria’s local service economy to a near standstill. The reopening has allowed some local businesses to make their best effort to stay afloat, but tourism, one of Victoria’s core industries, may take years to recover and some businesses have had to close their doors for good. City Hall has been no small part of Victoria’s fledgling recovery, leading with its Build Back Victoria initiative which has offered creative solutions to stimulate the economy, for example allowing businesses to expand their operations into streets, sidewalks and plazas to allow for increased ventilation and social distancing. 

But many of the hard choices remain to be made. 

“The city is facing many serious challenges, including housing and homelessness and the recovery from Covid-19 — especially the economic impact,” Councillor Jeremy Loveday said. “The new councillor will be stepping into a budget discussion midstream and will need to begin contributing right away.”

Despite the modest success of its business initiatives, Victoria City Council has also come under ongoing scrutiny for how it has handled the pandemic’s exacerbation of the housing and homelessnes crisis — specifically its decision to allow 24-hour camping in city parks. In last month’s provincial election, the BC Liberals unsuccessfully sought to use homelessness and law and order as the basis of their campaign against John Horgan’s NDP government. Again homelessness portends to be the central issue of Victoria’s by-election as it relates to the quality of life for both the people in need of shelter and social services, and other residents seeking clean, safe and socially distant outdoor space. 

With the by-election fast approaching, we have put together a rundown of the candidates.

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Stephen Andrew is a former CHEK News and CTV legislative reporter. Andrew, a longtime resident of Victoria, is making the case that he is a change candidate whose experience as a journalist positions him to “ask the hard questions and find the answers that we need.” Andrew takes a law-and-order approach to homelessness in Victoria, with his campaign prioritizing his stand on public safety and support for increased police funding. In a recent statement Andrew said, “From our children to our elderly citizens, from residents to tourists, from unhoused to housed, we must have a city that is safe, clean and welcoming in all parts of the city.”

Stefanie Hardman is running her campaign with the support of Together Victoria, a local political organization with plans to remake the City Council. Having worked with the Greater Victoria Coalition To End Homelessness and the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria, Hardman says she aims to make Victoria “a thriving city” by focusing on making it more inclusive and tackling the affordable housing crisis. In a recent post supporting the collection of race-based data Hardman said, “We need to understand how our city is working for people from different backgrounds to make sure it works for everyone.” 

Rob Duncan, a Ph.D in psychology and self described “lifelong socialist” highlights the housing problem and climate change as the two most important challenges for the city. His platform is built around championing “purpose-built” supported housing facilities and “a supervised and regulated municipal campground with washrooms, showers and maybe even an outdoor cookery.” Duncan took to Facebook recently to say, “Housing is a human right, and people without housing are people whose human rights are being violated.”

Hailey McLeod is running a campaign focused on increasing affordable and subsidized housing and tackling institutionalized racism in governance. Offering solutions like Airbnb restrictions and affordable housing mandates in new real estate developments, recent UVic grad McLeod stated recently, “Normal people deserve to have the politicians they vote for actually stand up for their interests.”

Bill Heflin, a longtime family litigator in Nelson, BC chaired the Kimberley Development Approval Board, served as a vice-chair of the Nelson Area Economic Development Commission and served 4 years on the Selkirk College Board of Governors. Heflin’s campaign is focused on ending “micro-management” and reducing Council’s involvement “in issues where they have no jurisdiction.”

Roshan Vickery, an art historian and auctioneer, makes the case that as a downtown tenant he has a unique understanding of the issues facing residents and businesses in Victoria. Vickery’s platform highlights a host of issues including housing, transportation and support for small business. Vickery argues for building a treatment facility “somewhere outside of the downtown core,” to simultaneously address mental health and addiction issues, while relieving the pressure on small businesses. Vickery is taking an overt law and order stance saying, “I would also like to see a tougher approach to dealing with the criminal element that preys on the homeless.”

Sean Leitenberg, a self-described “landlord with a social conscience,” is touting his experience in the retail, entertainment and hospitality sectors, saying he “wants to help downtown businesses prosper.” His platform advocates seeking community input on the housing crisis, fiscal responsibility, “protecting our parks” and “support for our Police Department.” In a gesture of solidarity with Victoria’s homeless population, Leitenberg set up a tent outside his Rockland home. His campaign makes it clear he is against 24/7 camping, posting on Facebook, “Safe streets and parks for everyone. Homes with support for those that need it and drug addiction treatment.”

Keith Rosenberg, a Canadian military veteran and father of two children with special needs, is offering “to bring back common sense and reason to the City Council.”  In a campaign statement last month, Rosenberg said, “I do not care what colour, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or anything else you can think of, as long as you are NOT racist. I need your vote, if given the chance I will represent all of you for what you are. People.”

Alexander Schmid’s platform is built around improving public transportation and bike lanes and building a light rail system to put an end to the “nightmare” facing commuters. Schmid, a physicist and UVic lab instructor, also emphasizes the importance of trust and transparency in government, the importance of neighborhood associations and his desire to restore Victoria’s storied “tidiness.”

Riga Godron is a frequent participant in Victoria elections. She ran for mayor in 2014 and in the last City Council election in October 2018. We reached out to Godron by email for more on her background and she hasn’t responded, but her candidate profile says, “Love is the only reason to work toward improving everything around you at a local level for the future.”

Jason Heit, a local business owner, former boxer and mixed martial artist announced on Nov 24 that he's endorsing Stephen Andrew, though Heit is still on the ballot. “I think Stephen has a good agenda and so it is in the best interests of the people and the community for me to step aside and endorse Stephen Andrew.” 

Victoria residents can advance vote at Crystal Garden every day between Dec. 1-9 except for Sunday, Dec. 6, or at any of six polling locations on Dec. 12, or by mail. 

More information on how, when and where to vote in the by-election can be found on the City of Victoria’s website

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