Voters head to cast their ballot in Canada’s federal election at the Fairbanks Interpretation Centre in Dartmouth, N.S., on October 21, 2019. What happens if Canada’s minority Liberal government is defeated this fall and Elections Canada concludes it can’t safely conduct an election because a second wave of the deadly coronavirus is sweeping the country? THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Voters head to cast their ballot in Canada’s federal election at the Fairbanks Interpretation Centre in Dartmouth, N.S., on October 21, 2019. What happens if Canada’s minority Liberal government is defeated this fall and Elections Canada concludes it can’t safely conduct an election because a second wave of the deadly coronavirus is sweeping the country? THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Parties urged to agree on safe way to hold possible election in pandemic

New Brunswick’s example will doubtless offer some lessons on how to conduct an election safely

What happens if Canada’s minority Liberal government is defeated this fall and Elections Canada concludes it can’t safely conduct an election because a second wave of the deadly coronavirus is sweeping the country?

That worst-case scenario was on the minds of some federal politicians as they watched New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs pull the plug Monday on his minority Conservative government, becoming the first jurisdiction in Canada to send voters to the polls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Brunswick’s example will doubtless offer some lessons on how to conduct an election safely.

It may also embolden other federal opposition parties to join the Bloc Quebecois in its determination to bring down Justin Trudeau’s government at the first opportunity.

For that matter, it may embolden the prime minister to pull the plug himself.

And it has NDP democratic reform critic Daniel Blaikie appealing to his counterparts in other federal parties to begin discussing now how best to safely conduct a federal election during the pandemic rather than sleepwalk into potential chaos.

“The worst thing would be to get to the point where we’re saying, ‘OK, we’re having an election’ and then having these disputes about the process and having somebody within the political system decide that it’s in their best interests to start assailing the legitimacy of the process that’s already under way,” he said in an interview.

Blaikie pointed to Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated assertions that mail-in ballots will result in rampant voter fraud during November’s U.S. presidential election as something Canada should try to avoid.

“We don’t need a political crisis on top of a public health and economic crisis,” he said.

As part of its preparations for a possible election during the pandemic, Elections Canada has set up an internal working group to assess the agency’s ability to conduct the vote safely – including its capacity to handle mail-in ballots, find alternative polling station locations and keep both voters and poll workers safe.

But there’s only so much Elections Canada can do under current law. In a post on its website about the impact of the pandemic on election planning, the agency notes for instance that Parliament would have to change the Canada Elections Act to allow for an election to be conducted entirely by mail-in ballots.

And it adds this warning: “In an extreme case, based on the advice of public health experts, the chief electoral officer could certify that it has become impracticable for Elections Canada to administer the election in one or more electoral districts and recommend to the governor-in-council (the governor general on the advice of cabinet) that the election writ be withdrawn.

“This has never been done in Elections Canada’s history.”

It’s that warning that particularly worries Blaikie. His worst-case scenario is that the government is defeated or Trudeau chooses to call an election, the governor general duly dissolves Parliament “and then Elections Canada says, ‘We’re actually not sure we can do this.’”

“So then you have a dissolved Parliament, you have an executive with no Parliament to hold it to account and how long does that go on? … If that is a possibility, I think it’s one we should all be very concerned about.”

Back on June 25, Blaikie wrote his counterparts in the other federal parties asking that they work together to find a way to ensure an election can be conducted safely during the pandemic with a process that is “politically legitimate.”

No one has so far responded to his letter.

“I find it kind of shocking that we’ve got people out there talking really strongly about wanting an election and the conditions under which they would precipitate an election when we don’t actually know how to have an election properly right now.”

Higgs predicted Monday that New Brunswick will have little difficulty pulling off a safe election, albeit one in which candidates don’t go door-to-door or hand out pamphlets.

With fewer than 200 cases of COVID-19 and just two deaths since March, New Brunswick has been relatively unscathed by the virus, which has infected more than 122,000 and killed more than 9,000 countrywide. Moreover, the pandemic is in something of a lull at the moment – which may no longer be the case later in the fall when the Trudeau government’s fate could be on the line.

The province’s chief electoral officer, Kim Poffenroth, said her agency has instituted a number of measures to ensure voters’ and electoral workers’ safety. Among them: marking the floors at polling stations to keep voters at least two-meters apart, requiring the use of hand sanitizer when voters enter and exit polling stations, providing disposable masks to electors, requiring workers to wear masks or face shields and hiring additional workers to manage the flow of voters and to clean high-touch surfaces.

As well, she said Elections New Brunswick has cancelled polling stations in long-term care and seniors’ homes and will make it easier for residents in those facilities to vote by mail. It has also stocked up on mail-in ballots.

However, should a second surge of COVID-19 cases erupt before Sept. 14, Poffenroth conceded it could impact voter turnout.

“We may have even greater challenges finding workers to work at the polls and then we may run into problems with the owners of buildings where we’re supposed to have polling locations not wanting us to use those locations.”

But regardless of how difficult it might become to administer the election, Poffenroth has no legal authority to recommend that it be called off – unlike Canada’s chief electoral officer, Stephane Perrault.

“There’s really no playbook for how to do this,” she said. “It’s a learning curve for both ourselves and other election management bodies across the country and we just happen to be the first ones out the gate.”

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Coronaviruselection

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

freezer
The Rimbey Food Bank recently received a grant which went to the purchase of a new freezer and shelving

‘Also, our first Cultured Chef was filmed and will be out on social media and our web site Friday’

Supporters gather outside GraceLife Church near Edmonton, Alta., on Sunday, April 11, 2021. The church has been fenced off by police and Alberta Health Services in violation of COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Hundreds gather to support Alberta church shut down for ignoring COVID-19 orders

GraceLife Church and its pastor, are charged for holding services that break health restrictions

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,183 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

50.5% of all active cases are variants of concern

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal, Thursday, March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PHAC receives first report of blood clot linked to AstraZeneca

The federal agency says the person is now recovering at home

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward
1 in 3 young Canadians have given up on owning a home: poll

Data released Monday says 36% of adults younger than 40 have given up on home ownership entirely

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most Canadians plan to get COVID-19 vaccine, but safety fears drive hesitancy: poll

This comes as confidence in governments is plummeting in provinces being hit hardest by the pandemic

Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in a 1981. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/CP)
Terry Fox’s legacy of resilience resonates during COVID-19 crisis, says brother

Fred Fox said his brother’s legacy of resilience has taken on renewed resonance as COVID-19 rages on

Madelyn Boyko poses along with a number of the bath bombs she makes with her mom, Jessica Boyko. Madelyn says she enjoys making the bath bombs with her mom as it is a special time for just the two of them. (Photo Submitted)
5-year-old Sylvan Lake girl selling bath bombs in support of younger brother

Madelyn Boyko is selling bath bombs for CdLS research in honour of her younger brother

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Most Read