Green Party Leader Questions By-election Amidst COVID-19 Surge - New Canadian Media
COVID-19 assessment center toronto by-elections

Green Party Leader Questions By-election Amidst COVID-19 Surge

The two by-elections set to take place on October 26 in Toronto will proceed as scheduled despite soaring cases of COVID-19 in the city.

Ontario health officials reported over 700 new COVID-19 cases per day between October 11-14. 

There’s been an average of 782 new cases per day as of last Wednesday, including a record 939 cases reported on October 8. Toronto’s Medical Officer of health, Dr. Eileen De Villa, said that the city will likely see more COVID-19 cases in the next few weeks than it did during the peak of the first wave in April. Of the 783 new cases reported in Ontario on Thursday, 239 of them were in Toronto. Last week, De Villa also revealed that approximately 10 per cent of Toronto’s total infections occurred in just over a week. 

The conditions in Toronto are “unsafe”, making it impossible to hold a “free and fair” election according to Annamie Paul. Paul is the newly elected leader of the Green Party, she’s also running in the Toronto-Centre by-election. Two of the neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19, Moss Park and St. Jamestown, are both located in the Toronto-Centre riding. Paul and all the candidates running in the Toronto-Centre and York-Centre races to support her request for postponement. 

“We’re talking about either people being disenfranchised, on the one hand, or being put at risk on the other if they force themselves to go out to vote,” Paul said.

Voting during the second-wave

Advance polls opened in both ridings today despite calls to have the elections suspended. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the byelections would continue despite the surging number of cases in Toronto. By law, the elections must be held by February, and delaying them any further could mean holding them when the pandemic is worse, Trudeau explained.

Paul congratulated all legvels of government for working together — for the most part — across party lines and through different levels of government and prioritizing people throughout the pandemic. 

“This is not political, this is not a joke,” Paul added. 

There are clear warning signs that the elections shouldn’t be held now but the rules to change the situation aren’t in place, Paul explained. “There are plans under way,” she noted.  

“Elections Canada wrote to the Speaker of the House [Anthony Rota] last week, proposing new legislation that would make it safer and more accessible to vote, even with the public health restrictions,” she added.

Things could get worse

De Villa warned that things will get “much worse” this winter if new restrictions aren’t put in place to slow the spread of the virus. In a recent briefing, she shared new modelling which suggests that if Toronto’s COVID-19 reproductive rate rises from 1:1.2 to 1:1.25, there could be more than 30,000 new cases in the next eight months. The models showed different numbers of infections that Toronto could experience based on what actions are taken to stop the spread. De Villa expects the worst of the spread to happen between early March and early May next year. 

Some Public Health officials say that coronavirus-related hospitalizations could hamper hospitals’ abilities to perform any kind of surgeries this fall, regardless of what measures are put in place. Paul and medical experts have said that we could’ve avoided the spike in numbers we’re seeing now had some restrictive measures been put in place earlier. 

“I think it’s important to learn as many lessons as we can from the mistakes that have been made and the things that have worked, and then keep going forward putting people first,” Paul said. 

Paul’s connection to her riding and party 

Paul’s advocacy for the safety of the residents of Toronto-Centre goes beyond the fact that she’s running to be MP in the riding. Paul was born in the neighbourhood, her mother and grandmother both worked there, and many of her friends and team members live there. When the by-election was announced in August following the resignation of former Finance Minister, Bill Mornnaeu, Paul knew immediately that she would run. The timing of the election was “the final insult,” she explained.

“Calling this by-election with basically a month for the whole thing to happen, in the middle of a pandemic. When we know that we’re hitting the second wave, we know we’re going to hit the peak in the place that can least afford to have it. That is least protected and has been one of the places hit the hardest with the infection. So win or lose I was definitely going to be running in this by-election.”

The other candidates are former CTV broadcast journalist Marci Ien for the Liberals, Conservative Benjamin Gauri Sharma and the NDP’s Brian Chang. Former leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, suggested that the other parties should extend Paul “the leader’s courtesy” by offering her a seat in the House of Commons. May argued that “blocking” Paul’s path to becoming an MP is not “classy” and is particularly problematic because Paul is the first Black leader of a major political party in Canada.

Despite her admitted annoyance, Paul said she never expected any of the other candidates to step aside. Some people have suggested that May could have, and for some people, should have given up her seat in the House of Commons to allow Paul to run in her Saanich-Gulf Islands riding in British Columbia. 

While Paul sees the rationale of that route, she doesn’t think it’s the best course of action. 

“Elizabeth is our parliamentary leader in the House. I do not need to take the seat from any sitting Green in our small caucus, in order to win,” she said. “I believe that there are lots of places where the leader of the Green Party can win a seat without having to push out one of our existing members.”

Advance polling is open in both the Toronto-Centre and York-Centre. The deadline for vote-by-mail applications is 6 p.m. October 20. Visit Elections Canada for more information.

Marcus is a poet, editor and freelance journalist based in Toronto. He currently works with New Canadian Media as an Editor and as a Freelance Writer for ByBlacks.com, The Edge: A Leader's Magazine and The Soapbox Press.

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