Elections Alberta monitoring wildfires for possible election delay

With the May 29 provincial election just over two weeks away, some officials are asking if Elections Alberta could delay the vote.

Delaying election date can only be requested on a constituency by constituency basis

A woman and man speak to other people outside the expo centre
Government officials like Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi visited wildfire evacuees at the Edmonton Expo Centre on Sunday. ( Wildinette Paul/Radio-Canada)

Elections Alberta is keeping a close watch on the wildfire situation just in case it has to delay the provincial election in one of the constituencies impacted by wildfires. 

Fires in areas north and west of Edmonton have forced thousands of people to leave their homes over the past week. Parts of nine northern and central Alberta constituencies are currently subject to evacuation orders. 

With the May 29 provincial election just over two weeks away, some officials are asking if Elections Alberta could delay the vote.

Wade Williams, mayor of Yellowhead County, said politicians are distracted by the election campaign so they are taking too long to make decisions like imposing fire bans and declaring a provincial state of emergency. 

"I don't care if we go to the polls this month, next month or the month after," Williams said in an interview with Edmonton AM host Mark Connolly on Wednesday. "We've got to work at what's important and that's saving the communities in this province."

The bar is high for delaying an election date and can only be requested on a constituency by constituency basis. 

"It's something that we're continuing to monitor over the next few days," said Robyn Bell, official spokesperson for Elections Alberta. 

"It's difficult to provide an exact date of when those decisions will be made because there's just so many factors."

An amendment to the Elections Act passed in 2018 and allows the chief electoral officer to change the hours of voting or move a voting location to accommodate voters affected by a natural disaster such as a fire.

For example, a polling location could be set up in an evacuation area. Displaced Albertans who still have access to a mailbox are allowed to request a special ballot. They can also use Elections Alberta's vote anywhere service which allows them to cast their ballot at any advanced poll in the province. 

The third option is asking the Court of King's Bench to discontinue the election date in a single constituency. That course of action is taken only after other measures weren't able to protect people's ability to vote. 

If a judge grants the request, a new election day has to be called within six months. 

The United Conservative Party said the decision to request a delay rests with the chief electoral officer. They are continuing to prepare for a vote on May 29. 

UCP Leader Danielle Smith said on Saturday she asked Elections Alberta what options were available if the vote needed to be delayed.

"The feedback that I got is that it would be very unusual to move election day," Smith said. "I think at this stage it's a bit early to make any additional call."

NDP candidates temporarily suspended their campaigns in six ridings including Drayton-Valley Devon and West Yellowhead.  A party spokesperson said they are also planning for a vote on May 29.


Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada.