Budget shortfall may jeopardize integrity of next N.S. election, official warns
Richard Temporale says lack of funds makes it impossible for Elections Nova Scotia to properly prepare
Elections Nova Scotia has told the provincial government it needs an immediate budget increase of $580,000 and it will need another $2.7 million next year in order to be election-ready by April 1, 2021.
The office had originally set the deadline for April 2020 but because the McNeil government did not give the independent agency the amount of money it requested in the 2019-20 budget, elections officials have had to push back the date a year.
"If you take a look at the history of this province, eight of the last 11 governments have been majority governments and those majority governments went before their fourth year started, so that's what's putting us behind the eight ball," chief electoral officer Richard Temporale said in an interview Wednesday.
"We chose April 2020 to be well in advance of that."
Temporale said his office had not been told why the additional funds were rejected by the province. The top election official admitted he was frustrated by the McNeil government's refusal to provide the funds, and its silence since.
Temporale said the lack of funds risks jeopardizing the integrity of the next vote. Without additional funding, "we can't hire returning officers, we can't train them and we can't train their staff."
"The logical extension of that is there could be mistakes made in the polls," Temporale said.
No fixed election date
He said it was the first time in the 11 years he's been chief electoral officer that the office has had an trouble getting pre-election funding.
In a report issued Wednesday, Temporale reiterated some of the concerns he expressed in January about the added costs of not having a fixed election date.
Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada that does not set a date and leaves the call entirely in the hands of the premier.
It is also one of a handful of federal and provincial jurisdictions that give government the final say on election budgets, something Temporale calls a "conflict of interest."
"Nine of the 14 [election] agencies have some sort of statutory process, they go to a committee that ultimately makes the decision on their budget," he said.
Elections Nova Scotia gets 'appropriate funding'
Mark Furey, the minister responsible for the Elections Act, said Elections Nova Scotia has been provided with "appropriate funding" since the Liberal government came to power.
Furey said Elections Nova Scotia will be provided with the money it needs for the next provincial election, and doesn't contest it needs $580,000 this year and $2.7 million the next.
"It's a matter of the timeliness of the disbursement of that money, and with the decision around electoral boundaries we recognize there's an additional need for money to address that work," Furey said.
Furey said his government is able to address Temporale's immediate needs, but it might not be the $580,000 requested for this year.
"There should be no surprises here. We continue to provide the appropriate money necessary for Elections Nova Scotia to do their work, as we did with the most recent byelections."
Furey said any talk of having a fixed election date is "solely the responsibility of the premier."
Opposition weighs in
Both opposition parties are calling on the McNeil government to pay up.
PC Leader Tim Houston said he couldn't understand why the governing Liberals rejected the initial budget request. But he said now that Temporale has made it clear Elections Nova Scotia needed the money, the government should come through.
"Democracy is based on our ability to trust the integrity of the election system," said Houston. "So the government should properly fund them."
NDP House leader Claudia Chender expressed a similar view.
"Our elections are really the bedrock upon which the rest of our work sits," she said. "And if we can't have reliable elections and we can't be prepared for those elections it casts the rest of our work into doubt. So I think absolutely funding this should be a priority."
An all-party committee of the Nova Scotia Legislature did recommend the budget put forward by Elections Nova Scotia last January, but the Treasury Board gave the agency only a modest increase.
The committee refused the agency's request to reappear before the committee to plead its case once again.
The province did give Elections Nova Scotia an additional $268,000 to pay for a move out of its current home to new facilities, and the agency has received roughly $800,000 to pay for four byelections held so far this year.