Unless there is a provincial change of heart, municipal elections are going ahead in October.
In a letter to Pam Mood, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, Minister Chuck Porter confirmed the province is currently planning to stick to the October 2020 election date despite a request by the NSFM to extend it by six months in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Pictou County, which includes six individual municipal units out of the 50 in the province, there is mixed reaction to the decision.
Westville Mayor Lennie White, who is an NSFM board member, was disappointed to hear the election would go forward. With so much uncertainty about what restrictions will be in place in the fall, he said he believes it would have been better to delay the date.
“I see events being cancelled into the fall. How do we conduct an election under those circumstances?” he questions, pointing out so much of traditional municipal campaigns involves talking to people in person and going door-to-door.
“I was quite disappointed when the minister’s letter came last week indicating the elections were going to go ahead,” White said. “To me it flies in the face of what I hear (provincial chief medical officer of health) Dr. Strang say.”
While it may seem self-serving for incumbents to argue for extending their stay in office by delaying the election, he said that’s not the case.
“One of the concerns I expressed is that it’s going to be somewhat of an unfair advantage for incumbents over newcomers,” he said, pointing out incumbents already are known in the community but those trying to get elected for the first time might not be.
Without a question, White believes the pandemic will change the way people campaign for the election.
Door-to-door campaigning is likely to be limited and if a second wave hits, it might be impossible.
“We’ll have to find new ways to speak to the people and make our intentions known.”
Pictou Mayor Jim Ryan said he is OK with the decision to stick with the fall election date.
“It’s hard to predict what’s going to be the best time,” he said. “There’s no guarantee that six months later it’s going to be a good time for an election either.”
One downside he said to going ahead with the election is that it could be a steep learning curve for council if there is a large turnover given the unusual financial ramifications of the pandemic.
Stellarton Mayor Danny MacGillivray believes the pandemic will definitely change the way people campaign. He said going door-to-door was one of the parts he enjoyed most about the campaign season. He believes it’s an important time for people to not only get to know the candidates, but also ask questions and raise issues that matter to them. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, he said candidates will have to find new ways to connect with the electorate.
In Stellarton, they have been looking into the cost of electronic voting and are hoping to have it in place for the election. MacGillivray believes it will be important for people to have that option as a way to vote, particularly for those in the at-risk population.
But regardless of how the vote goes ahead, Trenton Mayor Shannon MacInnis anticipates it will result in increased costs for the municipalities, either by switching to electronic voting or creating change to the traditional way of voting.
“It will definitely be more costly to the taxpayers, as new cleaning protocols would be in place at the polling stations, meaning hiring more staff to work the stations.”