Nfld. & Labrador

'There was no need' for election call, PCs and NDP say amid COVID-19 spread

With community spread of COVID-19 now confirmed in the St. John's area, opposition politicians are sharpening their criticism of Saturday's general election.

'This is a bit of an affront to democracy,' says NDP Leader Alison Coffin

NDP Leader Alison Coffin and Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie both have concerns about the implications for democracy, as hundreds of people will now be unable to vote Saturday because they are in isolation due to COVID-19. (CBC)

With community spread of COVID-19 now confirmed in the St. John's area, opposition politicians are sharpening their criticism of Saturday's general election. 

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie says the scenario was avoidable.

"We didn't have to be in this situation," Crosbie said Tuesday.

"Mr. Furey could have waited until we were all or nearly all of us vaccinated and in a much safer state. Because he was in such a rush to get the election done before we knew what was in the Greene report, this is why we are where we are now."

Crosbie was referring to a report expected from Moya Greene, the volunteer chair of an economic recovery team that Andrew Furey struck in September.

There are hundreds of people who are now in isolation in the metro St. John's area as contact tracing is underway. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald confirmed Monday that there is community spread happening.

Accessibility is absolutely vital for a lot of folks, so this is a bit of an affront to democracy.- Alison Coffin

The authority to postpone an election falls to chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk, who said late Monday that the election was still set for Feb. 13. He said safety protocols worked out with public health officials are in place.

But with deadlines well past for special ballots and advance polls, Crosbie said it means that hundreds of people will not able to cast votes Saturday.

The advance poll in the election was held Saturday. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

"I would come back to this principle that the right to vote is not just some incidental thing that can be put aside or impaired at will depending on other circumstances — it's enshrined in the Constitution of Canada and the Charter of Rights. It's an absolute right to vote, and people have fought and died for this," Crosbie said Tuesday.

"This is not just any old sort of thing that can be accommodated, depending on other circumstances. There is an absolute right to vote, and the effect of all this is going to be to suppress it."

Parties now won't be able to offer transportation to people who rely on it, creating concerned for accessibility to democracy, Crosbie said.

'A bit of an affront to democracy'

NDP Leader Alison Coffin said she is also worried about people being disenfranchised while following public health guidance.

"Accessibility is absolutely vital for a lot of folks, so this is a bit of an affront to democracy," Coffin said.

Coffin said "not being an epidemiologist and not being in charge of the election, it's not my place to suggest what should happen," but added there needs to be deeper discussion and consideration for those potential voters who now find themselves unable to head to the polls on Saturday.

Andrew Furey holds up a vial in December of the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to arrive in the province. Furey called an election in January, for Feb. 13. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

"What I would like to see happen is that the premier apologize for the harm he is doing to democracy, and from there I think we should ensure to keep people as safe as they can throughout the next few days," Coffin said.

Coffin also said she thinks it's inappropriate for Furey to be participating in COVID-19 briefings in his role as premier with an election just days away.

"I certainly think that this is an issue that needs to go to the House of Assembly. I imagine this is the type of thing that we will need to look into some depth certainly for the implications to democracy, as well as the implications to the timing of elections and the power of calling elections in spite of there being fixed dates."

Crosbie, too, said that there should be more discussion around the laws dictating fixed elections.

"There was no need for Andrew Furey to call this election now and he did. He did it because he wants to be profoundly undemocratic and get it done before the Moya Greene report is available, another two weeks. And it could have been done in the summer," Crosbie said, adding the opposition members in the House of Assembly had also pushed for the election to be pushed into the fall.

"He chose to reject that and run the risk of this kind of thing happening, a COVID outbreak, community spread, and that's exactly what's happened, so that's totally and entirely on his head."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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