May's municipal elections postponed over COVID-19 fears
Elections can now be held as late as May 2021
A skeleton crew of 14 members of the New Brunswick legislature voted Tuesday to postpone local elections scheduled for May because of fears of how the COVID-19 virus could spread in polling stations.
The elections, for municipal councils, district education councils and some members of regional health authorities, were scheduled for May 11.
But the bill rushed through and passed into law Tuesday postpones them until as late as May 10, 2021.
Local Government Minister Jeff Carr pleaded with mayors and councillors who planned to retire and not run again this spring to stay on.
"Now more than ever we know the citizens of this province need leadership. There are a number of mayors and councillors who have expressed an interest that they may not re-offer again," he said.
"So I'm calling on them to reconsider that, stay in their roles for another year to lead their communities and help us get our people through this crisis."
Edmundston Mayor Cyrille Simard, who planned to leave municipal politics in May, said on Twitter he would heed Carr's request.
"I think it's my duty to stay in my position until proper elections can be held to ensure the stability of the municipality in an exceptional situation," he wrote.
By-election date in doubt
The bill also allows for the postponement of two provincial byelections that Premier Blaine Higgs had scheduled for June 15 to elect new MLAs for the ridings of Saint Croix and Shediac Bay-Dieppe.
Under the new law they must be held no later than 30 days before the legislature returns for a new session in the fall. That date hasn't been set yet.
Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson told reporters his party insisted on that stipulation "because those two ridings have been a few months without any representatives."
Saint Croix has been vacant since Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Greg Thompson died last September, and former premier Brian Gallant resigned as MLA for Shediac Bay-Dieppe last October.
Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers, who doesn't have a seat in the legislature, said last fall he would run in the Shediac Bay-Dieppe byelection.
The rapid passage of that bill and several others Tuesday echoed last Friday's sitting in which the provincial budget, an appropriations bill and a new carbon tax were all approved in less than 18 minutes.
Carr said the Tuesday bills were approved by a special committee Premier Blaine Higgs established to oversee the province's COVID-19 response. It includes key cabinet ministers and the leaders of the other political parties in the legislature.
"It's been a good discussion so far at a crucial time in our province when we need leadership and we need teamwork and people to come together," Carr said.
"The collaboration with this comes at a time when we're in uncharted territory here, and we're leading the way, trying to show the leadership that New Brunswickers want to see."
Only 14 MLAs plus Speaker Daniel Guitard were in the chamber Tuesday, the minimum number required to have a quorum and do business.
The members sat in different seats than usual so they could heed social-distancing guidelines and stay far away from each other.
Lieutenant-Governor Brenda Murphy gave all the bills passed this year royal assent and the legislature voted to adjourn until Apr. 7, though the adjournment motion gives the Speaker the ability to set another date if necessary.