Nova Scotia

Elections Act changed, Dartmouth South candidate can collect salary

A single mother of two planning to run as an independent candidate in the Dartmouth South byelection will be able to collect her salary during the campaign, thanks to a fast-tracked amendment to Nova Scotia's Elections Act.

Charlene Gagnon was told her salary would be considered an illegal campaign contribution

Charlene Gagnon who has been planning to run as an independent candidate in the Dartmouth South byelection was told her salary would be considered an illegal campaign contribution. (CBC)

A single mother of two planning to run as an independent candidate in the Dartmouth South byelection will be able to collect her salary during the campaign, thanks to a fast-tracked amendment to Nova Scotia's Elections Act.

"I'm extremely happy. You don't even understand," said Charlene Gagnon, who plans to run in Dartmouth South.

In April, the legislature passed an amendment to the province's elections law that would exempt salaries from rules that considered a person's salary to be an illegal campaign contribution — but it hadn't been officially proclaimed.

On Monday, the government enacted the change instead of waiting for Bill 83 to be officially proclaimed next year.

The change came after Gagnon said Elections Nova Scotia representatives had told her that her salary would be considered an illegal campaign contribution.

Contributions can only come from individuals, not corporations or unions, which pay the salaries of most individuals.

Gagnon works for a non-profit group and is also working on a contract for another group. She says the old reading of the law would have forced her to take time off work during the 28-day campaign.

'You can make change'

She said that would have been hard on her family, given she made only $23,000 last year. Gagnon says the change means she can campaign without worrying about paying rent or feeding her kids.

"I saw the release on Twitter and I read it and I just woo-hooed and started crying," she said. "So thank you, Twitter."

Premier Stephen McNeil said Gagnon's case "clearly shows that this section of the law was prohibitive and a deterrent."

"Why should someone who wants to run independently, who has no access to party finances, be prohibited from running for office? It isn't fair," McNeil said in a statement Monday.

Gagnon says she's thrilled at the swift response. 

"I'm so happy the government and the premier recognize this as being a major issue and as being prohibitive to democracy," she said.

"I'm quite surprised. Usually when I go up against the powers that be I'm told, 'Sorry. Too bad.' So in this case it feels really, really, really good."

Gagnon, who plans to run as an independent, says this win is already fuelling her campaign.

"You can make change," she said. 

Bill 83 was given Royal Assent May 11, but doesn't come into force till Jan. 1, 2016. More than 100 other amendments will be proclaimed later.

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