Nova Scotia municipalities seeking decision on delay of fall elections
Officials say preparing voter lists, campaigning pose challenges under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions
Municipalities across Nova Scotia are asking the provincial government for a decision on whether to delay general elections scheduled for this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They say workers might not be able to prepare voter lists and candidates might not be able to knock on doors if the state of emergency lasts into the summer.
Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said she is hoping for a decision that will protect people's health.
"At this point in time, you know based on our state of emergency that we're supposed to stay the blazes home and it's not safe to be shaking hands and knocking on doors," she said.
Municipal elections are held across the province in October every four years. The next general election is scheduled for Oct. 17.
Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood, who is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, said the federation has sent a letter to the Department of Municipal Affairs asking for direction.
She said municipal units are already spending money to get ready for the fall elections and they need a decision soon.
"Right now, I can definitively say it is status quo, but we still have to consider the possibility of moving that election date," Mood said.
Even if restrictions on people gathering and movement are lifted this summer, it will be difficult to focus on election preparations, she said.
"Back to business means that we are going to be full force trying to drive the economy back up, so how do you do that in the middle of an election?" Mood said.
In the meantime, municipalities are appointing or hiring returning officers, setting pay rates for workers and deciding whether to enumerate voters or just revise the provincial list of electors.
Halifax Regional Municipality has just issued a request for a standing offer to print and deliver election ballots.
Mood said until the provincial government makes a decision on the fall elections, municipal officials have to meet the deadlines set out in a Municipal Affairs calendar that has already started counting down towards the Oct. 17 date.
"We just keep moving forward as if we're going to have the elections and that decision will be made I believe in the next six weeks, probably."
In an email, Municipal Affairs spokesperson Krista Higdon said it is assumed elections will be held in October.
The department, she said, "will be working with both the Association of Municipal Administrators and the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities over the next few weeks to better understand the impact of the pandemic on municipal election planning and continue to monitor the situation to determine if additional steps are necessary."
It's not clear whether a delay might affect at least two municipalities with vacant council seats.
Kendra Coombes resigned her seat on Cape Breton Regional Municipality council following a provincial byelection win last month.
CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke said Coombes's council seat is expected to remain vacant, but a lengthy delay in the fall elections might change that.
Last year, Port Hawkesbury councillor Trevor Boudreau moved out of town, leaving his seat vacant. A special council meeting was held on Tuesday to decide whether to extend Boudreau's term, but a motion on that was tied and thus defeated, said the mayor.
Chisholm-Beaton said if general elections can't be held because of coronavirus restrictions, a byelection should be out of the question.
"I think at the end of the day it's going to come down to safety," she said.
"We're going forward at least for six months' time with a vacant council seat and should that be extended, it wouldn't be safe in my mind to hold a special election."
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