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Most Canadians back postponing elections until after COVID-19 pandemic: Ipsos poll

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A large majority of Canadians agree that elections in Canada should be postponed until the novel coronavirus is brought under control, according to an Ipsos poll.

The poll, conducted exclusively for Global News, found that 72 per cent said they supported postponing elections for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Men were more likely to oppose delaying elections. Sixty per cent of men surveyed said they were strongly against delaying elections in comparison to 33 per cent of women respondents.

Support for delaying elections was lowest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba at 59 per cent.

The Ipsos poll noted that “perhaps not coincidentally,” the two provinces with the highest support for moving forward with their elections also have the lowest recorded levels of satisfaction with their provincial premiers.

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Saskatchewan is also the next province expected to go forward with its election. The province is due to head to the polls no later than the end of October 2020.

An email statement from Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe offered to Global News explained that the election will be held on Oct. 26, regardless of the rate of the province’s coronavirus curve.

Moe said at a press conference on last week that the election was “likely to look a lot different than the last election looked like four and a half years ago.”

“I have every confidence our chief electoral officer will ensure that we are able to conduct that election in a very safe manner across this province,” he added.

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Delaying an election for longer than five years has only happened once in Canada’s history when the federal election of 1916 was delayed until 1917 due to the First World War.

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But Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos, said it would not be a surprising move.

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“(People) really want their politicians, all public agencies, everyone in the country focused on this problem of dealing with this terrible virus and the disease that it creates,” he said.

“Politicking as normal is not seen as an appropriate thing at this time.”

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How relevant the polling data is “is really a question of how long we’re going to be living under these circumstances,” explained Lisa Young, a political science professor at the University of Calgary.

“Depending on how long the pandemic lasts, there is going to be a necessity to think about how we can hold elections in ways that don’t put people at risk,” she said.

Can you postpone an election?

Young said there’s an expectation that an election will be held on a certain date every four years, but constitutionally, provinces are only required to hold elections once every five years.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said delaying the expected date would be “perfectly reasonable” — but waiting more than five years to have an election would have “significant” political impacts.

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“Any time you essentially set aside the Constitution in order to delay holding an election, you raise the question of whether you are taking away people’s fundamental political rights,” said Young.

“I would assume under most circumstances that a government that did this would be punished when an election was eventually held because they had taken away citizens’ right to vote.”

If a province was to go more than five years without holding an election, they would need to pass legislation that explicitly set aside the Constitution, Young explained, adding that it’s not clear whether that would be constitutionally valid.

Serious consequences

Dr. Bessma Momani, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, said prolonging an election for too long could hold serious consequences.

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“The democratic vote is an essential part of grading the government’s actions, behaviours and policies,” she said. “If you don’t have that mechanism, governments will not feel that they have a responsibility in the same way.”

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Voting, at the end of the day, is an evaluation of government officials at various levels across the world based on their reactions, said Momani — and, in this case, the policies they come up with in response to the pandemic.

She added that the pandemic could also change the way politicians campaign.

“How governments try to make this as inclusive as possible will often be explained by whether or not they would be successful at the polls,” said Momani.

For example, if a government tends to have a larger base of older voters who may be less inclined to line up at the polls, she said it would be in that government’s best interest to postpone elections. In contrast, Momani said a government that does better with young people, like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s, may be more likely to put policies in place that promote online or mail-in voting.

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How politicians hit the campaign trail could also depend on what Momani describes as the “urban versus rural” debate.

“Highly dense urban areas maybe feel less comfortable (lining up for the polls), particularly because we know the virus thrives in dense situations, while rural communities may feel more comfortable because they have less cases,” she said.

Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.” This Ipsos poll on behalf of Global News was an online survey of 1,000 Canadians conducted between May 8 and 11. The results were weighted to better reflect the composition of the adult Canadian population, according to census data. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.