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It was an unusual message: with particularly bad weather on the horizon, the province’s Chief Electoral Officer warned there would be no snow days.
“Elections NL is encouraging potential candidates to file their nomination papers as soon as possible. … The nomination deadline of this Saturday, Jan. 23 at 2:00 p.m. is fixed in legislation and cannot be changed. If candidates do not file their papers by 2 p.m. on Saturday with their district returning officer, they will not be nominated and their names will not appear on the election ballot.”
It’s a message that isn’t sent often — for a particular reason.
Since Confederation, Newfoundland and Labrador has only had two winter elections out of the last 20, both in February. Fall or spring elections have been much more common.
And that’s because politicians prefer the fewest surprises possible on the campaign trail.
Winter has some wild cards, for sure, many of them right around the 13th of February. In fact, mid-February has seen some of the largest snowfalls in St. John’s. The day with the most snow in 2017 was Feb. 14 (39.1 centimetres), while Feb. 12 in 2015 had 31.5 cm, also the snowiest day for that year. Over the last 30 years, the most snowfall for St. John’s for the entire year came in the two weeks surrounding Feb. 13 at least six times. Oh, and in 2012? Feb. 12 brought winds over 100 kilometres an hour and over 90 millimetres of rain.
Since Confederation, Newfoundland and Labrador has only had two winter elections out of the last 20, both in February.
It’s a big province. February 2015 saw Corner Brook receive 220 cm of snow over just four weeks. In the three days leading up to Feb. 13, 2012, Happy Valley-Goose Bay got 52 cm of snow. And the wild winter weather list goes on.
It’s what you expect in winter in this province.
What happens if it is stormy?
There is a procedure in the Elections Act if a poll can’t be opened because of weather. It allows for polling to be delayed until the next day (but not a Sunday, which it would be in this case). So, there’s always a chance of an election stretching over three days.
But that’s the extreme.
The bigger problem is the middle ground of weather that’s bad enough to deter voters in some or all of the province, but not bad enough to stop the election as a whole.
Simply put, some people just won’t show up. Some, because they don’t want to go out in dangerous conditions, and others, because they can’t.
So, why now?
Liberal Leader Andrew Furey would have to answer that. He picked the day.
But from the outside? Let’s just say the forecast for Dame Moya Greene’s committee report on the province’s economic future must be a bigger risk than winter weather.