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By-election price tag will be $716,504

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 10:21 PST, Wed March 3, 2021

A civic by-election to fill the seat vacated by former Richmond councillor Kelly Greene will cost $716,504.

Greene, who was elected to the provincial legislature as a member of the governing NDP by winning the Richmond-Steveston MLA seat last fall, vacated her council seat late last year.

The estimated cost is higher than the 2018 general election mainly because of a mail-in voting provision. That adds another $150,000, while a further $55,000 covers pandemic-related costs—particularly cleaning supplies.

“The fact that we only have one vacancy, and it’s only for about a year, doesn’t mean that it’s of lesser importance and for that reason I don’t think we should compromise anything for the integrity of the by-election,” said Coun. Chak Au, who was in favour of the proposal.

“We all find the cost distasteful,” added Coun. Linda McPhail, who also voted in favour of the proposed by-election despite its cost.

City staff also presented a scaled-down option that would have cost $540,000. But it failed to include a mail-in voting option. Only people who have a physical disability that affects their ability to vote, or people who will be away from Richmond during the entire voting period, would be able to vote by mail.

Councillors disagreed on the projected cost at a February finance committee meeting. In response to queries, city staff confirmed that legislation dictates the availability of advance voting as well as a sufficient number of voting places. In a report to council, staff said they will aim to spend less than the budgeted amount, but that “sufficient funding must be in place to ensure for the integrity of the election,” as well as for the health and safety of all people involved.

Coun. Carol Day was in support of referring staff to take another look at possibly bringing the budget down.

“I agree that the election is important,” she said. “Our hands are tied behind our back—we have to have one. But I just don’t think voter turnout’s going to be that great, and the smart thing to do is to take a step backwards on this one, and then let’s run a full 100 per cent effective election in 2022.”

While Coun. Harold Steves and Coun. Michael Wolfe were in support of the referral motion, the rest of council was opposed and the main motion, including its cost, passed. The current targeted date for an election is May 29.

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