COVID outbreak, winter weather in Newfoundland slows pace of election campaign

·3 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey defended his decision to call a provincial election during the COVID-19 pandemic after authorities on Monday said they had detected community spread in St. John's.

Health officials reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 and suspended team sports along with group recreational and cultural activities, such as music and dance classes, in the capital region. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said, "... we have community spread in the (St. John's) metro area."

Liberal Leader Furey told reporters that although he struggled with the decision to call the vote for Feb. 13, it was based on the province's low infection rate at the time. There are currently 27 active reported cases in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Let's be clear, we still today have relatively low numbers," Furey told reporters. "I have every faith in public health officials that we can continue to navigate this." Chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk had given assurances that an election was "doable" during the pandemic, Furey added.

Elections had been held in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, where Furey said the "burden" of COVID-19 cases was much higher than it is in Newfoundland and Labrador. "Following public health guidelines is paramount in order to ensure that we can continue to navigate this issue right now," he said.

As a result of the outbreak in the St. John's region, Furey said the Liberals would move to a more virtual-style campaign, especially in Mount Pearl, where several new cases linked to the local high school had been identified.

"We all realize there had to be an election within the next six to eight months," he said, referring to election legislation. "There's no way to fully predict the burden of COVID-19 and when things will happen."

Meanwhile, a winter storm that hit the province Monday limited activities for the three main parties as the provincial election campaign headed into its final week.

No public events were planned by the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives or the NDP. Environment Canada said some parts of Newfoundland could get up to 35 centimetres of snow with winds expected to reach up to 100 kilometres an hour.

The Progressive Conservatives released a statement pledging to increase access to childcare across the province. They said they would implement a $25-a-day childcare program and work with Ottawa to introduce universal, publicly funded early childhood education.

The party said it would also streamline access to early childhood education subsidies and ensure parents continue to receive benefits between their children's academic semesters.

The New Democrats on Monday pledged to establish permanent core funding for Status of Women Council offices so they can continue to help vulnerable women across the province.

In a statement released by Mount Scio candidate Sheilagh O’Leary, the NDP said two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the province are women and that women's organizations have been asking the government for more help as people struggle during the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021.

— By Keith Doucette in Halifax.

The Canadian Press