Nova Scotia municipalities pushing harder to get fall elections delayed
Officials worried about cost of preparing for electronic voting if second wave of COVID-19 impacts vote
The Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities continues to push for a delay to this fall's general elections, despite a recent ruling by Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter that the elections would go ahead as scheduled.
Municipal officials are worried they could be stuck with the added cost of preparing for electronic voting even if a second wave of COVID-19 ends up postponing the Oct. 17 elections.
"What happens is you've got to sign some contracts and the worry now is that in August, if there's any kind of second wave or whatever, the election could still be cancelled or postponed and we'd be caught in the middle of this," said Coun. George MacDonald, who represents Cape Breton Regional Municipality on the federation's board.
It's not just the politicians, he said.
MacDonald said internal polling by the federation suggested about three-quarters of members across the province wanted the election delayed, but the numbers were even higher for chief administrative officers.
Porter has said municipalities can still hold elections, but he is urging them to adopt electronic voting, so people can cast a ballot by calling in on a telephone or going on the internet.
MacDonald said as a result, municipalities are increasing pressure on the government to postpone the October elections.
They're contacting opposition politicians for support and are "bypassing" the minister, he said, and they have asked the premier directly to overturn the decision or guarantee the province will cover their investment.
However, MacDonald would not go so far as to say municipalities have lost the confidence of their minister.
"I don't know if it's non-confidence, I just think it's a matter of everybody's frustrated," he said.
"It's a matter of covering all our bases."
In an emailed statement, the province said it continues to work with municipalities on financial issues.
It also said it has struck a working group with public health, municipal affairs, the association of municipal administrators and the federation to ensure elections are held safely.
The government is also working with Springtide Collective, a non-partisan charity that promotes democracy engagement, to create online resources for candidates on running an appropriate campaign that includes physical distancing rules.
Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said on Friday his team was just asked this week to look into the question of holding elections in the fall.
He said his team has been focused on the first stages of reopening the economy and will consider the fall elections in the next couple of weeks as the team's capacity increases.
Premier Stephen McNeil said when the minister announced that fall elections would proceed, he advised municipalities to prepare for an election, but said the decision would be reviewed at some point.
Logistics also a concern
However, the letter from Chuck Porter to federation president Pam Mood does not include any reference to a future review of the decision.
In addition to their concerns over the cost, municipal officials say it will be difficult to campaign with physical distancing rules likely to stay in place.
MacDonald also said municipalities are pressing the provincial and federal governments for more direct financial aid. The $380-million loan announced by the province only helps municipalities with cash flow while residents and businesses take time to pay this year's taxes.
CBRM and Halifax are lobbying for a direct cash injection to cover transit, he said, which the province designated an essential service, and they're looking for general financial aid to cover other lost facility rentals and other revenues that are down, or gone, due to the pandemic.
Transit funds coming?
"We're going to be cash strapped, especially with transit, for example," MacDonald said.
He said the Federation of Canadian Municipalities expects Ottawa will provide transit funding shortly.
Nova Scotia municipalities are also pushing the province to provide money for non-profit organizations who need operating funds. CBRM has already decided for this year only to allow community groups to apply for operating funds through the municipality's sustainability grants. But those municipal grants are contingent on matching provincial funding up to a maximum of $10,000.
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