VICTORIA -- Victoria city staff say that the city’s postponed byelection may not be able to take place until early 2021.

A byelection was originally scheduled to take place on April 4 to replace former councillor Laurel Collins, who stepped down after being elected as the MP for Victoria last year.

In a report submitted to city council Monday, Victoria staff say that extensive work needs to go into preparing a new byelection safely during the pandemic.

Previously, the municipality assumed that no byelection would take place until the pandemic was declared over, based on advice from the provincial government.

Recently, however, city staff say that the province has indicated that a byelection could take place safely during the pandemic, if the municipality wanted to pursue one.

City staff say that any forthcoming byelection would likely have to rely on mail-in ballots, something that is currently reserved for voters who cannot access regular in-person voting polls.

Municipal staff are recommending that the city appeal to the provincial government to expand who is eligible to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic, something staff say the province is already reviewing.

Once that is complete, staff say they could take further steps along the byelection process. Next steps include appointing a Chief Election Officer. However, staff note that once a Chief Election Officer is appointed, a general voting day must occur within 80 days, so this step should not be taken until the municipality is confident in its plan to safely hold the byelection.

The budget for the original April 4 byelection was estimated at $170,000. Roughly $90,000 of that budget had already been spent before the byelection was cancelled.

“Some of these expenditures will lessen the cost of the new byelection but most certainly there will be significant extra costs to conduct voting during the pandemic,” reads the city report.

Before a byelection can take place, staff say they must further research what costs may arise and what new safety measures need to be in place.

Staff say they are unable to do this in earnest while they oversee other municipal affairs.

“So as noted in the previous reports on the byelection process, staff have to stop doing other work in order to move a byelection process forward,” reads the report.

“At this point, timelines are challenging to predict and typical election planning for voting tends to stay away from holidays,” the report adds. “It is possible that a byelection may not be able to be safely planned and delivered until Q1 of 2021.”

Victoria city council will review the staff report at a committee of the whole meeting Thursday. 

Staff say they have been working with the City of Burnaby to discuss how a byelection could take place amid the pandemic, as the two municipalities are the largest regions that had byelections postponed by COVID-19.