A Victoria councillor who admitted to travelling to East Africa in December should donate his pay for the time he was away to an organization that supports the city’s homeless, says one Victoria resident.
Many people have called for Sharmarke Dubow to resign following revelations that he travelled to Kenya and his native country, Somalia, in December despite government advisories to avoid non-essential travel amid rising COVID‑19 case numbers.
But Karmen McNamara, a Canadian triathlete who previously ran for Victoria council, said she does not want Dubow to resign because the city cannot afford another $200,000 byelection. Coun. Stephen Andrew was elected in a December byelection to replace Laurel Collins, who resigned after she was voted MP for Victoria.
Dubow, who returned to Canada on Monday, is now quarantining for 14 days in a Vancouver hotel, where he said he’s working on council duties remotely. The City of Victoria confirmed that Dubow is paying for his own hotel costs.
“My tax dollars are paying [Dubow] to work in Vancouver and they were paying him while he was on holiday oversees,” McNamara said. “For him to donate to those who can’t afford to travel, who can’t afford to stay in a hotel, those who have been the hardest hit by the pandemic, that is an appropriate consequence.”
McNamara said news of municipal councillors travelling particularly upset her given the sacrifices she’s made to stop the spread of COVID-19.
McNamara said she did not travel to Red Deer, Alta. in late March to say goodbye to her dying mother. She has not seen her sister or grandfather, who also live in Alberta, since her mother died. The family decided not to hold a funeral because they wanted to avoid any risk of the virus spreading.
“The idea of travelling, even for something like a funeral, I didn’t consider essential enough to jeopardize the safety of my community and of other communities,” she said.
McNamara said any elected official has a responsibility to show leadership and abide by public health orders.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said on Tuesday that Dubow’s decision was “irresponsible” but she has no power to sanction him. Dubow does not have any additional committee or Capital Regional District appointments, which pay an extra stipend, and there is no recall process for municipal politicians.
Dubow is a member of the Together Victoria political organization. Helps, Coun. Sarah Potts and members of the Together Victoria board of directors said they did not know that Dubow had travelled until Tuesday, which is when the Times Colonist sent queries to all Greater Victoria elected officials asking if they had travelled internationally.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Dubow apologized for the “poor choice” to travel to Kenya and Somalia to see family.
It’s unclear when Dubow left Canada and he has not responded to multiple requests for an interview. He appeared by video at Thursday’s council meeting, but did not address his travel.
On Tuesday, in his first public address of 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chastised those who travelled internationally over the holidays. “No one should be vacationing abroad right now,” he said.
Metchosin Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila has defended her decision to travel to Mexico for a friend’s wedding in December, angering some Metchosin residents and a few of her fellow councillors, who said Kahakauwila did not notify them of her travel plans. At Monday’s council meeting, some Metchosin residents plan to call for Kahakauwila to be stripped of her deputy-mayor title.
North Saanich Coun. Heather Gartshore said she travelled to Seattle for a week to see her daughter and quarantined for two weeks upon her return. Gartshore has not responded to requests for comment about when or how she travelled. The land border between the U.S. and Canada remains closed for non-essential travel, although flights to the U.S. are still possible.