B.C. Premier John Horgan has deferred to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on every step of the province’s response to COVID-19, except a surprise election set for Oct. 24.
“The election of course was not an issue I needed to raise with her,” Horgan told reporters as he announced the unscheduled vote Sept. 21. “She’s been working with Elections B.C. 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 COVID-19 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,” Horgan 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.”
Carole James heads ‘caretaker’ B.C. government
Finance Minister Carole James is the only NDP cabinet minister to keep working during the B.C. election campaign.
James is among 15 MLAs retiring at the end of their current term, 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,” Premier John 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 B.C.’s health ministry approaches the seasonal influenza season with additional vaccine and testing capacity in the works for this fall and winter.
COVID-19 liquor, music rules extended with fines
In his last official act before heading into a B.C. election, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced tighter rules for liquor sales at restaurants and private events.
Premier John Horgan said the latest COVID-19 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., Farnworth’s ministry announced Sunday, Sept. 20. Liquor sales for on-site consumption must stop by 10 p.m. at private events as well as 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 provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s public health orders, and $200 fines 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,” Premier John Horgan said as he was calling an election for Oct. 24. “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.”