The CEO of Elections Saskatchewan says voters are strongly encouraged to wear masks when they go to the polls during the provincial election, but that his office isn't legally requiring masks because it doesn't want to send out conflicting public messaging.
Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, has not mandated that people wear masks in public spaces, but strongly encourages them to do so.
Micheal Boda, the CEO of Elections Saskatchewan, said he considered mandating masks among voters but ultimately opted to align with Dr. Shahab's thinking.
"You've heard some of the municipalities discuss mask rules and often they are yielding to the province, to the chief medical health officer, in terms of whether or not masks would be required," Boda said.
"In the context of an election, I don't want to introduce that confusion and I would be yielding to the chief medical health officer and to local communities in terms of what their requirements are."
Shahab not asked about requiring voters to mask up
While Shahab has been consulted on some election matters — he did a walkthrough of a test polling station, for example — Boda said he has not specifically asked Shahab about mandating masks for voters.
Asked if Elections Saskatchewan would have the jurisdiction to do so, Boda said, "It is a challenging legal question that we would have to leave to the lawyers."
That legal analysis has not occurred, Boda said.
"That said, in an emergency situation, I have been given authority to do what is necessary in order to implement the electoral process itself. And so I do have certain authority for this particular general election."
Businesses in the province can require customers to wear masks, while some communities have considered veering away from the province's COVID-19 policies. Early in the pandemic, Regina city council voted to declare its own state of emergency, only to see that decision immediately superceded by Saskatchewan's decision to declare a provincial state of emergency.
In September, city officials and councillors in Saskatoon considered making masks mandatory in public spaces but ultimately decided only to require masks on city buses.
Mayor Charlie Clark echoed Boda in saying competing laws could sow division.
"I've talked to the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary about their experience with a mask mandate," Clark said during a municipal election debate on Wednesday. "It can actually become a distraction if the municipality tries to go down that road and people start to fight over masks instead of working together to keep the community safe."
Advance polls next week
Voters will head to advance provincial polls beginning next week after a period in which Saskatchewan has seen consecutive double-digit daily COVID-19 case increases, including the third-highest daily case increase (on Oct. 12) since the province reported its first infected person in March.
Elections officials and candidate scrutineers will be "required" to wear masks, Boda said.
Voting locations will have fewer polling stations than normal in order to give people more space, Boda said.
CBC asked The Saskchewan NDP and the Saskatchewan party if they would suppport mandatory masks at polling stations.
"Everyone wants a safe election. Elections Saskatchewan has done a lot of important work to make voting as safe and easy as possible, in compliance with the guidelines set out by the chief medical health officer," an NDP spokesperson said.
"The Saskatchewan Party supports the guidelines that have been put in place by Elections Saskatchewan in consultation with the chief medical health officer and the electoral advisory committee," a Saskatchewan Party spokesperson said.
Boda, like previous Elections Saskatchewan CEOs, is hired by the legislative assembly's board of internal economy, a bipartisan committee of MLAs made up of the speaker of the house plus two cabinet ministers, two government private members and two opposition members .
"I'm not taking instruction from government or opposition in terms of the decisions that I make. I work with the public health officials in order to make a determination on how to move forward," Boda said.