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Advocacy group, Elections NB call for municipal election date

Click to play video 'New Brunswickers call for Higgs to call municipal elections' New Brunswickers call for Higgs to call municipal elections
Calls for New Brunswick to set a date for municipal elections are growing in the province. Votes were supposed to be cast in towns and cities back in May, but that was put on hold because of the pandemic. As Tim Roszell reports, it will be months before elections New Brunswick is ready.

There are calls for the New Brunswick government to set a date for municipal elections now that the provincial election is in the rearview mirror.

Municipal elections were scheduled for May 2020 but were delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means municipal governments, large and small, have been operating well into the fifth year of what is normally a four-year term.

Margot Cragg, executive director of the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick, said some local representatives are not waiting until an election and have already resigned for family, work or other reasons.

“In some cases, the communities have lost quorum, so the minimum number of people legally needed to make decisions as a community,” Cragg said. “Or there’s a couple of communities that are right on the edge where they can’t afford for somebody to get the sniffles because then they wouldn’t have the number of people around the table that they need.”

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Read more: New Brunswick postpones municipal elections in response to coronavirus pandemic

Mayors in at least three of New Brunswick’s eight cities — Saint John, Bathurst and Edmundston — have confirmed they are not reoffering, although they have stayed on the job to date.

The provincial government sets the date for the municipal election, but Premier Blaine Higgs has yet to name his cabinet in a new Progressive Conservative majority government voted in on Sept. 14.

Cragg said most jurisdictions are in the middle of annual budget discussions, making a fall election far from ideal.

“We’re saying, at the very least, we need to set the date of the municipal election,” Cragg said. “That’ll give the folks who are currently playing overtime some certainty as to how much time is left on the clock, it will give the folks thinking about running time to prepare, it will give folks over at Elections New Brunswick time to get over their hangover from the last election.”

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Chief electoral officer Kim Poffenroth said Elections New Brunswick is pleased with the way this month’s provincial vote went from a logistical standpoint.

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But Poffenroth said it will be three to four months before Elections New Brunswick is ready for a municipal election.

She said materials like computers, printers, personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies are still being packed up at provincial returning offices around New Brunswick.

“All of that material needs to come back to Elections New Brunswick,” Poffenroth said. “Be triaged, and then determine what new materials need to be ordered, for example, particularly with regard to PPE and cleaning supplies.”

Read more: New Brunswick mayors say there are no more excuses to avoid municipal reform

Poffenroth also said staff need to review the provincial election period and election day, and determine what, if any, changes need to be made to operations.

All of which takes time.

Poffenroth said she expects there to be some consultation with the province about when Elections New Brunswick could be ready for a municipal election.

“It’s ultimately a government decision,” Poffenroth said. “But I think everyone — Elections New Brunswick and all the municipalities and potential candidates — would benefit from knowing what that date is.”

The Department of Environment and Local Government declined to comment when contacted by Global News.

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By law, Cragg said an election can be held no later than May 10, 2021.