Saskatchewan’s chief electoral officer is recommending an advisory group be struck to provide advice on whether to go ahead with October’s provincial election.
Boda said staff wouldn’t be able to transition to a postal ballot for an October vote, but could for a spring election if work on that started right away.
“We don’t have the capacity as an institution,” he said on Tuesday. “We would need to use vendors in order to assist us and we would be competing with all of those jurisdictions in the United States that are transitioning to postal ballot.”
He recommends the advisory group be set up with the province’s chief medical health officer and house leaders from the government and Opposition to discuss the election and COVID-19.
“They will discuss with me the current situation and offer advice to me on whether we should proceed or not with the election, and then I would give advice to the premier, who then ultimately makes the decision,” Boda said.
The election is set for Oct. 26.
Boda said a final recommendation should be made in September before any writ period.
“If it is not a safe environment, then I wouldn’t be recommending we move forward, but I will adjust the system so that, regardless, we will ensure that there is greater safety.”
Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer says there will always be a risk associated with gatherings — including elections — until there’s a vaccine in place.
“For other activities, like for example voting, special provisions can apply which can minimize the risk,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab on Thursday. “Of course, if there was a significant increase in COVID-19 activity, those provisions would have to be looked at again.”
While Shahab says it’s possible to have an election, he says it’s impossible to predict when we would see a surge or spike in cases.
Boda said his planning for October will include considerations such as how large spaces need to be for people to vote.
He is asking the government to secure schools and other public facilities and would like them closed on election day to ensure physical distancing.
He’s also asked the government for access to personal protective equipment, such as masks.
“We certainly don’t want to take anything away from front-line health-care workers,” he said.
Finally, Boda wants the legislative assembly to give him emergency powers in legislation to change procedures and adapt to COVID-19 as needed.
“We will work to ensure that Elections Saskatchewan has the resources and legal authority necessary to conduct the election safely,” government house leader Jeremy Harrison said in a statement.
Opposition NDP house leader Cathy Sproule said both sides need to collaborate on the election and safety should be the main priority.
“Any of us who get into politics are wanting to ensure that our democracy’s protected and getting as many people out to vote as possible,” she said.
The NDP has been calling for politicians to reconvene to scrutinize government spending. Sproule said she wants to see a full budget presented before the election.
She said her party is also discussing how candidates can campaign safely.
“Are we going to yell at them from the sidewalk when we knock on their door?”
Saskatchewan Party executive director Patrick Bundrock said campaigning and fundraising activities remain on hold.
With files from David Baxter.
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