Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's chief electoral officer concerned about office's lack of independence

In his last report to Nova Scotia's House of Assembly, Chief Electoral Officer Richard Temporale recommends that the agency gain full independence from government. He's worried about the erosion of trust in democratic institutions.

'I feel it is timely to open a discussion about what our independence means to Nova Scotia's democracy'

Richard Temporale is retiring from his position as Nova Scotia's chief electoral officer. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Richard Temporale, Nova Scotia's chief electoral officer, is ending his decade at the helm of the provincial agency responsible for elections with a call for Premier Tim Houston's government to ensure Elections Nova Scotia is independent of government.

In his final report, which is on last August's general election, Temporale focuses on the need for Elections Nova Scotia to "exist and operate" at "arm's length from the government of the day."

"During my tenure, I have learned that as senior government department staff and ministers change, the history and understanding of the independence of ENS and how we fulfil our mandate can erode over time," he wrote in the introduction to the 44-page report.

Although the agency reports to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, its budget is controlled by the Department of Justice.

Temporale's call for greater autonomy stems from his agency's clash with the Liberal government under Stephen McNeil in early 2019, when the Liberals refused to grant his agency all the money it had requested in its budget.

That request had been unanimously approved by an all-party committee of the Nova Scotia legislature.

In November 2019, Temporale said the lack of funds might jeopardize the integrity of the next general election. At the time, McNeil and Mark Furey, the justice minister, dismissed Temporale's concerns.

'That special committee has no power'

Rather than have Election Nova Scotia's budget examined by a legislature committee and then government, Temporale would like the budget brought to the floor of Province House for examination and debate.

"That special committee has no power," Temporale said in an interview with CBC on Tuesday. "It reviews our budget, talks about it, and makes a recommendation and that recommendation goes into a black hole (at) Treasury Board."

"Treasury Board, for whatever reason it has, may grant us the money that we ask for and may not," he said. "There's no discussion as to why. It's not transparent and accountable." 

Recalling that time, Temporale said the lack of funding created numerous headaches for the agency.

"We couldn't train, we couldn't buy technology, there were all kinds of things we couldn't do," said Temporale, "It was very stressful."

Safeguards encouraged

Temporale also devoted part of his report to the broader need to safeguard the "integrity of our democratic processes," which he suggested "must be maintained and enhanced."

He pointed to the growing use of social media, as well as "interference in democratic processes in high-profile elections internationally in recent years" as justification for his concerns.

"I feel it is timely to open a discussion about what our independence means to Nova Scotia's democracy and what further measures are needed to continue to ensure the voters' trust in what ENS does is beyond reproach," he wrote.

In the interview, Temporale refused to name any country as an example where election interference has taken place, but he said the threat was real.

"If you take a look around the world and what's happening to democracy out there, it is on shaky ground," he said. 

Elections Nova Scotia has put forth 20 recommendations to laws that govern elections or election financing, including:

  • Forbidding Treasury Board from altering Elections Nova Scotia budget requests that have been approved by an all-party committee. 
  • Elections Nova Scotia recommendations for legislative changes would go directly to an all-party committee rather than be "filtered by" the minister of justice. 
  • Formalize a non-partisan selection process for the Chief Electoral Officer "at arm's length from Executive Council."
  • Extend the pre-writ period to 120 days in order to force the disclosure of pre-election spending by political parties, candidates and third-party advertisers.
  • Reduce the current possible length of election periods from 30 to 46 days to between 30 to 37 days.
  • Eliminate the $200 nomination deposit candidate must pay to run.

Some of the changes are new. Others were proposed but rejected when the Elections Act was amended by the Liberals in 2020 and the PC's in 2021, when the Houston government designated July 15, 2025 as the next election date.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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