Nfld. & Labrador

Here's how N.L. parties will hold an election campaign in the middle of a pandemic

From virtual rallies to distanced door-knocking, N.L.'s three largest political parties are planning their strategies for an expected winter election.

There's a long list of rules, and party reps say they'll lean heavily on social media

With 70 candidates now in place across the province, election speculation is ramping up and parties are planning how to campaign amid a pandemic. (CBC)

Shelly Moores approaches the front door and knocks, looking to make a lasting impression on whoever's inside.

Before anyone answers, she turns around and walks away.

Moores, the Liberal Party candidate for Conception Bay South, will need to juggle a long list of COVID-19 restrictions — whipped up especially for election candidates like her — in addition to the normal stresses of a campaign.

That list, from Elections NL, includes stepping back at least six feet from voters after rapping on their doors.

But as she demonstrates her sanitary greeting strategy, Moores says she'll primarily depend on more distanced methods to get her message across.

"Social media and mainstream media is going to be huge for us," she said. "We are going to use my social media, my Facebook and Twitter and Instagram accounts as much as possible, phone as many people as possible."

As the clock ticks on Premier Andrew Furey's maximum 12 uncontested months in office, candidates like Moores are preparing to meet voters anywhere but the actual campaign trail. Furey has yet to call an election, but must do so before August. Legislation in this province requires his premiership to be affirmed, or done away with, through a general election within a year after taking over as leader of the reigning Liberal Party.

With public health restrictions barring large gatherings and dissuading close contact between strangers, all three main parties say they're gearing up for a rather strange election season, with Zoom sessions and Facebook posts largely replacing the traditional rallies and public encounters.

Here's how N.L. candidates are gearing up for a pandemic election

CBC News Newfoundland

4 months ago
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CBC's Terry Roberts speaks to campaign leaders about how they're staying safe on the trail. 3:11

'A lot more one-on-one'

After a rash of nominations in recent days, about 70 candidates are now locked into place across the province.

Shawn Skinner, campaign chair for the PC Party, suspects candidates will rely less on the door-to-door technique this year.

"There will be ways that we will reach out to people that haven't been done, normally, during elections," Skinner said.

"I still think there'll be knocking on doors. I don't think that that will stop, but I think there will be less of it, and I think it'll be done differently. People will knock on the door, step back six or eight feet and try to talk to somebody that way."

Shawn Skinner is head of campaigns for the PC Party. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Skinner, who recently ran in a St. John's municipal byelection, said his own campaign strategy included calling voters in advance and setting up a time to meet while physically distanced.

"It's going to be a lot more one on one," he said. "The days of getting 50 people out into a hall … those days are gone."

Skinner also doubts campaigning will happen in congregate living situations, such as apartment buildings or seniors' homes. The result of those health measures, he suggests, means there's more onus on voters who want to be engaged to reach out to candidates themselves, rather than the other way around.

Kyle Rees, campaign chair for the Newfoundland and Labrador NDP, said the premier shouldn't call the election this winter, given the lack of widespread vaccines and the cold weather that hinders outdoor meetings.

He also said voters should be able to see the economic recovery team's report before casting a ballot. Despite that, Rees suspects a February election is likely.

Kyle Rees is the NDP's campaign chair. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Despite the additional rules and workarounds, Rees said not much will change for his party.

"We're not the type of party to hold campaign rallies, or put people on campaign buses, or fly around the province. That's just not the way we do things," Rees said.

The NDP is ready for an election call, he said — one focused more on the policy itself, rather than the presentation of it.

"We've been preparing to make sure we've got a message that responds to people in this province," he said.

"We don't want to do it in any kind of way that's unsafe or contrary to any regulation. We're being very careful about that."

Megan Reynolds is president of the Liberal Party. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Megan Reynolds, president of the Liberal Party, expects an uptick in mail-in ballots. Three other provinces that have run a pandemic election saw a surge in voting by post.

A Saturday election day is also on the table, rather than the usual Tuesday, Reynolds said, a shift that would free up larger buildings like schools and allow for greater physical distancing. 

While she was mum on the details, including whether Liberal candidates will get a campaign bus, she said her party will closely follow Elections NL guidelines and depend more on social and broadcast media.

 "We're going to have to rely on other means of contacting voters," Reynolds said, pointing as an example to one candidate's planned Q&A through video conferencing.

Despite the extra labour — navigating public opinion, politics, and now a pandemic — "I think we can pull off a winter election," she said.

"We've seen it done before."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Terry Roberts

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