The provincial election is well underway and the three candidates vying for Columbia River-Revelstoke are all finding it a unique campaign for the simple reason that it’s the first B.C. election held during a global pandemic.
COVID-19 escalated into a global pandemic last winter and spring. While B.C. is not the first jurisdiction to hold elections during the pandemic (New Brunswick held its election earlier this fall, and campaigns south of the border are in full swing), but campaigning in the time of COVID-19 is uncharted territory for B.C. politicians and doing so brings new challenges and new opportunities.
“We have no formal campaign offices,” said incumbent Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA and Liberal candidate Doug Clovechok, adding that when he ran in the 2017 and 2013 elections, he had offices in Invermere, Kimberley, Golden and Revelstoke.
Instead, he has three Zoom meetings a week, including a once a- week meeting with his entire 106-member campaign team.
“What we effectively have is a virtual campaign office, and it’s actually working out really well. It’s unexpected, but it’s created a sense of we’re one big team, instead of being the Invermere part or Kimberley part or Revelstoke part or Golden part of a larger team,” he said, adding this has been invaluable in terms of sharing ideas and insights.
“We’ve had to pivot from the traditional way of campaigning,” said Clovechok. “In any negative, there is a positive. You just have to find it.”
His campaign team has not been, and will not be, knocking on doors, but has been doing what Clovechok termed ‘literature drops’ at constituents’ doors, ensuring that team members are wearing masks and constantly sanitizing while they do.
There will be no large campaign events for Clovechok, but he will be holding digital town hall meetings, and is engaging with constituents as much as possible through social media, radio, newspapers and phone calls.
“It is certainly quite a unique perspective,” said Columbia River-Revelstoke NDP candidate Nicole Cherlet, adding the pandemic and the associated social distancing measures have forced campaign teams to up their digital games.
“This may actually result in getting better engagement, in some senses,” she said.
The NDP have also abandoned traditional campaign offices, with the exception of a one-person mini-office in Golden, and have also created a ‘virtual campaign office’, much as the Liberals have, although the NDP are doing theirs through Slack.
“For such a huge riding, it’s actually allowed us to stay connected better,” she said. Cherlet plans to ride around communities in the riding on a commuter bicycle emblazoned with a large campaign sign, giving people the chance to meet and talk with her at an appropriate social distance.
“It’s a way of trying to put a face on the person and to connect that to our virtual content,” she said. “You can’t do that in a car. And we need to be careful and stay safe, so we can’t do the typical big group meet-and-greet events. This is an alternative.”
Columbia River-Revelstoke Green Party candidate Samson Boyer and his campaign team have also been upping efforts to engage constituents through social media and more traditional media. “It’s not particularly easy to reach out to voters during a pandemic,” said Boyer.
“It’s a lot harder to engage with people, but we’re doing our best.”
The Green Party is also foregoing door knocking, and is going to host digital town halls through Zoom and Facebook soon.
“Calling has become really important, even though fewer people have land lines than ever before,” said Boyer, adding he’s also been visiting local businesses, since most of those already have COVID-19 precautions and measures in place, to talk with business owners about their concerns.
Boyer encouraged constituents, no matter their political preferences, to get pandemic-friendly mail-in voting packages as soon as possible.