In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, the leaders of British Columbia’s political parties are revealing how they’re keeping safe during the province’s pandemic election.
The NDP, Liberals and Greens all say they are taking thoughtful precautions to safeguard themselves, their staff and the voters they’re trying to woo.
“We have a bus, as we’re calling it, ‘the Us Bus,’” said NDP leader John Horgan. “There’s seven of us, we’ve been travelling from our campaign headquarters to events in the Lower Mainland and have been to Kitimat last week and we’re going to the Kootenays this weekend … We’re very tight and we have family members – one of the people on our team is in my bubble and his twin brother is in another bubble so they haven’t seen each other, they won’t be interacting until the campaign is over.”
Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson says he’s keeping his team in a small bubble as well.
“I drive in one vehicle with one person. I use a mask whenever I’m not on camera and we’re being very prudent about keeping working groups of people separate so that there’s no chance of transmission between bubbles,” said Wilkinson. “This is our duty as members of the public and the people of British Columbia to make sure we’re maintaining a healthy working environment through the campaign.”
He held a virtual campaign rally with Liberal candidates and supporters over the weekend and has been hosting Q&A sessions with candidates on Facebook live, with ample physical distance, in order to promote the party’s platforms; these measures are in addition to the campaign’s traditional and social media advertising.
Liberal campaign manager in self-isolation
The risks of the virus are hitting close to home for the Liberals. One of their campaign managers is self-isolating after much of his household got sick and was confirmed to have the coronavirus.
Bilal Cheema is managing several campaigns in the Surrey area and says he grew concerned when his oldest son was having health issues while the Lower Mainland was under heavy wildfire smoke. The family’s doctor said the boy’s asthma was likely aggravated, but days later he wasn’t improving. Then, the family got a call from Fraser Health contact tracer who told them the child had been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
“My son was the first one who tested positive, then my sister, then my father, a few days later my wife,” explained Cheema, who isolated with his two other children who later tested positive, though he hasn’t. “Everyone isolated in separate rooms, no connection, couldn't come out of the rooms. We were taking turns, those of us still negative in the house, to prepare food and take it, leave it in front of the doors of those who were infected and then picking up the plates and cutlery and stuff very carefully.”
The veteran campaign manager hasn’t let up from his commitments to the Liberal Party, continuing to do his job from his laptop, confined to a single room with an en-suite bathroom.
"I'm doing as much as I can from home, providing support to the campaigns, putting structures in place, recruiting volunteers, recruiting different personnel that would take care of different aspects of the campaign,” he said. “We're going to get through this, it is what it is. I know there's many more people that've gone through this and their families have been impacted much harsher than ours have. We're blessed, I'm hoping the government and people that are working on a vaccine do so soon."
No preventative testing for B.C. party leaders
Unlike workers at the White House, Wilkinson says he and his staff are not regularly tested.
“We have not approached testing because (provincial health officer) Dr. (Bonnie) Henry’s been very clear you shouldn’t be lining up for testing if you have no symptoms,” he told reporters. “What we’re doing instead is being very cautious.”
Horgan emphasized the differences between B.C.’s election and how the U.S. Republican Party’s campaign has unfolded.
“I think the contrast is fairly obvious. Our campaign and the other parties that are campaigning right now are totally focussed on a COVID-friendly campaign,” he said. “We’re not seeing large gatherings, we’re always wearing our masks, we’re physical distancing, hand hygiene is absolutely fundamental.”
The BC Green Party leader referenced Donald Trump’s illness as well, but also took the opportunity to attack Horgan.
“As you've seen from other political parties, other leaders in the world right now, COVID-19 doesn't discriminate against who gets it. It is a highly communicable virus and it is a risk to everybody," said Sonia Furstenau, noting that volunteers, staff and candidates are wearing masks and maintaining physical distance whenever possible. “This is not an ideal time to be having an election. We're in a global pandemic and we're seeing COVID rates have been rising since August quite steadily, and of course having an unnecessary election increases risk for everybody in this province."
Like the other leaders, Horgan has been virtually visiting multiple parts of the province in one day through Zoom and Facebook events and insists it’s better than traditional campaigning in many ways.
“All of the things British Columbians care about can be done with technologies without the glitz and the glamour of big rallies and people waving signs and so on,” said Horgan. “I know some pine for the good old days, but frankly, I’m excited about talking to people about substance, talking to people about the things that matter to them, and so far so good.”