Nfld. & Labrador

This N.L. man was ordered to quarantine. Now he can't vote

Gary Dawson was told Monday to stay in his home for 14 days after his kids came into contact with a positive case. If nothing changes, he won't be casting a ballot on Saturday.

Gary Dawson of Mount Pearl troubled by lack of recourse to problem hundreds now face

After a case of COVID-19 was detected at his kids' after-school program, Gary Dawson of Mount Pearl North near St. Johns has been ordered to isolate for 14 days, meaning he won't be able to head to the polls on Feb. 13, the day of Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial election. (Submitted by Gary Dawson)

Gary Dawson got the call Sunday. 

His kids' after-school program, on the other end of the phone, informed him they'd be shutting down due to a positive COVID-19 case connected to their facility.

A day later, the Mount Pearl father had Eastern Health employees on the line, ordering him to stay in his home for 14 days: meaning he wouldn't be free to roam until a week after Election Day.

"That was the first thing that came to my head," Dawson told CBC Radio's On the Go. When cases ramped, he said, "I kind of started to wonder, hey, this could happen to a lot of people."

The province's top doctor, Janice Fitzgerald, said Tuesday that as many as 1500 people are now in isolation, after 41 cases revealed themselves in the last two days.

Chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk told CBC News this week that legislation doesn't contain any workarounds for those mandated to stay put, and who haven't already voted through special ballots or advance polls.

That means, he said, they won't get a vote at all.

"I've been voting ever since I had the ability to vote," Dawson said. "I think it's something everybody should take seriously. So not being able to vote, I take very seriously."

Dawson only has to point to the district of Labrador West, in 2019, to make his case. NDP candidate Jordan Brown, the incumbent for that district, squeaked past Liberal Graham Letto with two extra votes, nabbing him the seat.

What's frustrating for me is the lack of planning and mitigation.

"A matter of a couple people voting made the difference in who got elected," Dawson said. "I keep thinking mine and my wife's vote could make the difference of someone not getting in in Mount Pearl North."

Dawson said he normally tries to cast his ballot in advance polls, but this year — given that all three major parties waited until over halfway through the campaign to release their platforms — he hadn't yet made his decision.

Besides, he said, he'd always thought special ballots weren't meant for the average member of the electorate.

"I've always understood, as a voter, that those were for people with special circumstances, not just for people to vote early," he said.

CBC News requested an interview with Chaulk Tuesday, but he declined, citing the need to speak to Fitzgerald first about how to proceed. Chaulk has the power to delay the election, currently scheduled for Feb. 13.

Those potentially exposed to coronavirus in recent days have no options left to vote on Saturday. (CBC)

Dawson thinks an extended special ballot period, or a phone-in system, could offer solutions.

"I think there needs to be more compassion to understand the large amount of people in isolation," Dawson said. 

He's not impressed that the COVID-19 outbreak took the Liberal leader, Andrew Furey, by surprise.

"I'm sure Mr. Furey knew there were risks associated with calling an election in February," he said. "What's more frustrating for me is the lack of planning and mitigation."

Situation amounting to suppression: opponents

Furey's opponents, NDP Leader Alison Coffin and PC Leader Ches Crosbie, weighed in Tuesday, saying anyone who wants to vote must be granted access. Coffin called the lack of options for isolating voters "an affront to democracy."

Crosbie agreed.

"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," Crosbie said.

"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."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On the Go