Advertisement

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Click to play video 'Global BC political panel: Sept 20' Global BC political panel: Sept 20
There's plenty of buzz, but is B.C. actually heading for a Fall election? Our political panel weighs in on the challenges Premier Horgan faces. – Sep 20, 2020

VANCOUVER – Election administrators in British Columbia are ready with hand sanitizer for voters and personal protective equipment for polling station workers as part of a pandemic plan similar to one used recently in New Brunswick.

Elections BC spokesman Andrew Watson said staff have consulted with their counterparts in the eastern province, where voters were the first in Canada to cast their ballots during COVID-19, in case Premier John Horgan calls a snap fall election.

Click to play video 'Would calling a snap election work for the BC NDP, or against them?' Would calling a snap election work for the BC NDP, or against them?
Would calling a snap election work for the BC NDP, or against them? – Sep 18, 2020

Watson said administrators of elections in Saskatchewan are preparing for a vote that will happen by Oct. 26, adding his office began working with provincial health officials in April as the reality of a pandemic and a possible election set in.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: COMMENTARY: In B.C., John Horgan could be next to roll the election dice

Besides procuring safety items, ensuring physical distancing protocols are followed has been part of the training for election officials, he said.

Elections New Brunswick spokesman Paul Harpelle said public health measures worked well at voting places on Sept. 14 and the province saw a significant increase in mail-in ballots but the agency does not yet have a breakdown of numbers.

Click to play video 'If B.C. does have a fall election, when could it be?' If B.C. does have a fall election, when could it be?
If B.C. does have a fall election, when could it be? – Sep 16, 2020

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic.

That’s an option typically used by voters who will be away during an election and has been available in B.C. since 1988, Watson said.

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: BC NDP election hopeful calling on party to apply gender mandate, block Nathan Cullen from consideration

“But for a pandemic election, to ensure accessibility, it will be an option for any eligible voter who wishes to request a vote-by-mail package,” he said, adding mail-in-ballots have accounted for about one per cent of ballots in past elections.

Click to play video 'Vote by mail one option to cast ballot: Elections Saskatchewan' Vote by mail one option to cast ballot: Elections Saskatchewan
Vote by mail one option to cast ballot: Elections Saskatchewan – Aug 20, 2020

“Based on survey research we’ve done during our planning that number could be as high as 35 per cent.”

A federal election is also possible this fall if the throne speech set for Wednesday is not supported by opposition leaders in a confidence vote.

Read more: UBC political-science expert says early provincial election would be unwise

Story continues below advertisement

Elections Canada says on its website that the agency is developing plans to protect the health and safety of the public, thousands of election workers, candidates and their staff in preparation for a possible fall election.

It says recommendations to Parliament could include a two-day weekend polling period, instead of the usual single day to
facilitate physical distancing, and that mail-in ballots be accepted until the day after the weekend vote.

“In addition to engaging with national and provincial health officials, Elections Canada will ask returning officers to engage with health officials at the local level in order to offer services that are aligned with the reality in their region,” it says.

Click to play video 'Emergency meeting of NDP provincial council fuels election speculation' Emergency meeting of NDP provincial council fuels election speculation
Emergency meeting of NDP provincial council fuels election speculation – Sep 17, 2020

For candidates, elections devoid of kissing babies, speaking at boisterous rallies or knocking on doors will mean different ways of campaigning during a pandemic.

Story continues below advertisement

Hamish Telford, assistant professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver, said candidates would have to make a greater effort to expand their reach by phone and social media.

Televised debates of party leaders are still likely to happen but all-candidates meetings limited to 50 people by public health guidelines may not be worthwhile, he said.

Telford said that while voting at polling booths will be akin to the precautions taken when going grocery shopping, turnout may be low and few people may opt for mail-in ballots as COVID-19 cases rise in B.C.

Click to play video 'Premier John Horgan dodges questions on B.C. fall election' Premier John Horgan dodges questions on B.C. fall election
Premier John Horgan dodges questions on B.C. fall election – Sep 14, 2020

“A lot of people are preoccupied with more urgent matters – their health, their job, their kids’ schooling. And they are concerned and wary about going out in public,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

“We know that more older people tend to vote than younger people and I think older people are more concerned about COVID than younger people and that could keep older people away from the polls.”

Sonia Furstenau, the Green party’s new leader, has said a power-sharing agreement with the NDP after the last election that allowed Horgan to form a minority government has the stability needed during the pandemic. She said a fall election would be irresponsible.

Horgan said on Thursday he hadn’t made a decision on an election. He has said the Green party he signed a deal with three years ago has changed and the document was void of any mention of a pandemic.