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Nova Scotia election: What can we learn from New Brunswick’s pandemic vote?

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WATCH: Nova Scotia is not the first Maritime province to go through an election during a pandemic. New Brunswick did it last year and the lessons learned through that experience are helping Nova Scotia. Travis Fortnum reports. – Jul 19, 2021

Election Day in Nova Scotia is set for Aug. 17 — coincidentally one year to the day from when New Brunswick saw the writ drop, becoming the first Canadian province to hold an election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back then, COVID-19 vaccines seemed a distant dream and a pandemic campaign seemed a daunting task.

In the months since, three more provinces have held general elections and over 18 million Canadians are now considered fully vaccinated.

Still, experts say the campaign ahead is far from the norm.

“It will definitely look different,” says Tom Urbaniak, political science professor at Cape Breton University.

“We’re still in a state of emergency.”

Read more: It could be a while before Nova Scotia’s next COVID-19 briefing

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Nova Scotia is currently in Phase Four of its five-phase reopening plan.

So, unlike in New Brunswick last year, door-to-door campaigning will be much more acceptable.

Still, crowded rallies, shaking hands and kissing babies could still land a candidate in hot water.

“Without question, the parties will be communicating with their volunteers and their candidates to be very careful,” Urbaniak says.

“Not only to keep themselves safe but also to keep the party safe in respect to public relations.”

Candidates quitting (or being removed from) a party before Election Day is not uncommon, but add in the particulars of following public health guidelines and those vying for votes have another stipulation to worry about.

Read more: Veteran member of N.S. Liberal government resigns, ending party’s majority rule

Still, Urbaniak says none named thus far have stood out as a wildcard in that sense.

“In Nova Scotia, the parties tend to have a consensus in regards to the public safety precautions,” he says.

“We haven’t seen any major political figures take a vastly different approach.”

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Nova Scotia’s political parties have the advantage of preparation in that this election is technically overdue — not a snap election as New Brunswick saw in 2020.

The Nova Scotia Liberal Party won a majority government in 2017 but was downgraded to a minority with the spring exits of former premier Ian Rankin and MLA Margaret Miller.

Though opposition leaders in New Brunswick called foul in the early days of the campaign, claiming the election to be a surprise and unsafe for voters, it went smoothly and ended with a majority PC government as Higgs hoped.

“We had a much different campaign than normal,” says University of New Brunswick political science professor JP Lewis.

“But at the same time there wasn’t a major outbreak in the middle of the campaign, there wasn’t a delay in the vote, turnout was close to normal.”

Read more: New Brunswick PCs form majority government as Liberal leader Kevin Vickers steps down

New Brunswick voters put mail-in ballots and advanced polling to use to beat the Election Day rush and subsequent crowds, though higher numbers of early voters means an even shorter campaign for candidates already facing a quick turnaround.

And in those crucial first days and weeks, COVID-19 could still be the issue at the top of every voter’s list.

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“Obviously we’re at a different stage of the pandemic than we were when we had the election in New Brunswick,” says Lewis.

“But again, it’s hard to imagine it still not being on most people’s mind.”

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