N.L. Progressive Conservatives call for election to be postponed amid COVID outbreak

·3 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — With soaring COVID-19 case numbers and community spread in the capital, Newfoundland and Labrador's Progressive Conservative leader is calling for the provincial election to be postponed.

In a video press conference Wednesday, Ches Crosbie told reporters he wants Saturday's vote to be delayed until authorities can make a plan that will ensure people feel safe casting a ballot.

In particular, he's asking that Liberal Leader and incumbent Premier Andrew Furey and chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk put the brakes on the election and put their heads together.

"Andrew Furey gambled on the election call. COVID-19 has called his bluff," Crosbie said. "A measured approach that involves taking extra time to do things safely should be carefully considered by the premier."

According to provincial legislation, voting day must happen between 28 and 35 days of the legislature being dissolved.

Right now, voters are set to head to the polls on Feb. 13, which is 28 days after Furey called the election. Crosbie said that leaves a seven-day window in which the election could be rescheduled so officials can have more time to plan, in light of the worsening spread of COVID-19 in and around St. John's.

During Wednesday's public health briefing, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer, said her team "will have to find a way" to hold a safe election amid the outbreak. Crosbie said her comment indicates "the plans are not yet in place" for a safe election to occur.

He also said there's confusion over who even has the authority to postpone the election which, to him, indicates that authorities need more time.

Furey has said repeatedly that it's not his place to be rewriting the rules.

"Can you imagine if whoever was running in an election was able to dictate pauses or restarts or changes to the dates of an election? I mean, it's just not right," he told a news conference Wednesday. "And that's why Mr. Chaulk, an independent officer, is in place. And I assume he'll make the best decision with the best evidence available to him."

He said he has full confidence that Chaulk and Fitzgerald "will help us navigate an election in what is a complex time."

Fitzgerald said Wednesday she doesn't have "jurisdiction over the election," while Chaulk was not available for comment. He has said in the past that he could move the election day in the event of a snowstorm that shut down the city, for example.

Elections NL said earlier Wednesday it would set up a drive-thru voting site in St. John's for people who have been asked by public health to isolate. The arrangement will be similar to a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site, the elections authority said in a news release.

Fitzgerald told reporters she hadn't seen the plan for the drive-thru voting station, which Crosbie said indicates confusion and gaps in communication. "She's going to need time to review that and make sure that it is the safest possible plan," he said.

Health officials announced a record 53 new COVID-19 cases in the province Wednesday as well as 32 presumptive positive cases. Fitzgerald said there were 110 active reported cases of COVID-19 in the province — 94 of which were confirmed in the last three days.

In response to the latest numbers, Fitzgerald issued new health orders for the province's capital region, including the closure of all kindergarten to Grade 12 schools, the suspension of in-person dining in restaurants and the closing of non-essential stores.

Health officials are also advising against travel in and out of the St. John's area, except for essential purposes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press