Nova Scotia

5 things to know heading into the Nova Scotia municipal election

Nova Scotians are in the home stretch of the 2020 municipal election, with voters in 46 of 49 municipalities, counties and towns voting on the makeup of their next councils.

Concerns over COVID-19 have made this an election like no other for the province

Municipal elections take place across Nova Scotia on Saturday, Oct. 17. (CBC)

Nova Scotians are in the home stretch of the 2020 municipal election, with voters in 46 of 49 municipalities, counties and towns voting on the makeup of their next councils.

While Saturday is election day, many people have taken advantage of early online and telephone voting, as well as advance polls.

Two towns and one municipality aren't having elections this time around:

  • Councils and mayors were acclaimed in Lockeport and Middleton.

  • In Windsor-West Hants Regional Municipality, voters cast ballots in May to elect their first mayor and council, almost two years after agreeing to merge to try and alleviate years of tension over who should pay for services such as fire protection, water, the library and the community centre.

Voting ends Saturday at 7 p.m. AT, with results expected to come in soon after.

Here are five things to watch. 

Voting

This election has offered the most opportunities to vote online during a Nova Scotia municipal election.

Twenty-six regions are doing online voting only, including the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. The idea gained steam because of COVID-19 and concerns over in-person voting on election day.

Another 13 regions, including the Halifax Regional Municipality, are doing a mixture of online, telephone and paper balloting. 

Seven regions are paper only:

  • Municipality of Antigonish
  • Barrington
  • Clark's Harbour
  • Mulgrave
  • Richmond County
  • Region of Queens Municipality
  • County of Colchester

Dartmouth, N.S., company Intelivote Systems Inc. is handling all online voting, with results tabulated and expected for returning officers shortly after the final vote is cast for their specific region.

There have been concerns over online voting and voter lists, but overall, it seems most are happy with the ability to cast their ballots from the comforts of home during a pandemic. 

Overall voter turnout in the 2016 municipal election for Nova Scotia was 46 per cent, but some areas like Municipality of Kings County (29.5 per cent) were much lower.  

Online voting ended in HRM on Wednesday with more than 103,000 ballots cast out of 321,783 eligible voters (32.2 per cent). That figure surpasses the overall 2016 total of 91,583 ballots cast out of 288,277 eligible voters (31.8 per cent). 

Gender imbalance

Once again, the overall number of men running compared to women isn't close.

Here are some examples:

  • There are 62 men and 24 women running for office in the Halifax Regional Municipality, compared to 42 men and 14 women in 2016.

  • In CBRM, there are 42 men and 12 women running, compared to 36 men and 10 women four years ago.

  • On the mayor's front, there are 51 male and 15 female candidates, and one person who identifies as they/them. That's compared to 57 men and 16 women in 2016.

There could be some positives on election night for women:

  • In two regions — Wolfville and Stewiacke — all-female councils, including mayors, are possible.

  • In Richmond County, which currently has an all-male council, three women in three separate districts are running.

  • It's a similar situation in the Municipality of Clare. All eight of its council seats are held by men, but there are three women running in different districts.

Mayors

There will be at least six new mayors elected, plus another new person acclaimed.

In five of these cases, the current mayor isn't reoffering. They are the towns of Wolfville, Mulgrave, Clark's Harbour, Lunenburg and Oxford.

In Lockeport, current councillor Corey Nickerson has been acclaimed as mayor after George Harding decided to not run again.

The Municipality of Cumberland is electing a mayor for the first time, with former Progressive Conservative MLA, justice minister and Speaker of the House Murray Scott running against former Amherst town councillor Jason Blanch, who stepped down in February after moving to Upper Napean.

In the province's largest two municipalities, incumbents Mike Savage in HRM and Cecil Clarke in CBRM are both seeking third terms.

Savage is up against councillor Matt Whitman and TikTok star Max Taylor.

Clarke is facing five challengers, including the only woman mayoral candidate in CBRM, Amanda McDougall.

Crowded races

Across the province there are some large fields running for council positions.

In HRM, there are 12 candidates vying for vacant seats in both District 4 and District 11 with councillors Lorelei Nicoll and Stephen Adams, respectively, not reoffering.

In District 10, Russell Walker is not reoffering and eight candidates have put their name forward. In District 13, Whitman is not running again because he's vying for the top job, and there are nine candidates looking to replace him. 

In CBRM, there are eight candidates running in District 11, a seat won in 2016 by Kendra Coombes, and left vacant after she won a seat for the Nova Scotia NDP in a 2020 byelection.

Elsewhere, there are 18 candidates running for six council seats in the Town of Yarmouth, 22 people running in six races in the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth and 25 candidates for seven council races in Annapolis County. 

How the winners will celebrate

Here's what you won't see on election night: A dancing Cecil Clarke busting a move with a large crowd of his supporters at a celebration party like he did in 2016. 

Because of COVID-19, candidates are taking a more cautious approach and will be mainly watching results come in from home, or with a few supporters at small gatherings, all while respecting gathering limits and physical-distancing restrictions.

Election night will feel very different, especially for those who have worked on their candidates' campaigns, and for those who taste victory.

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