Legislation introduced to deal with lockdowns during New Brunswick municipal elections

·3 min read
New Brunswick municipal electoral officer Kim Poffenroth is hopeful elections for municipal councils. district education councils and regional health authorities will happen without incident on May 10.  But she is glad there is legislation in case of COVID-19 lockdown issues. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
New Brunswick municipal electoral officer Kim Poffenroth is hopeful elections for municipal councils. district education councils and regional health authorities will happen without incident on May 10. But she is glad there is legislation in case of COVID-19 lockdown issues. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

Just days before returning offices open for municipal elections in New Brunswick, the government has introduced legislation that would allow the municipal electoral officer to suspend nominations and voting in a particular zone, in the event of a lockdown because of COVID-19.

Last year's municipal elections were postponed due to the pandemic. The elections are now scheduled for May 10.

The Minister of Local Government and Local Governance Reform, Daniel Allain, says he hopes the "Act Respecting Municipal General Elections in 2021" doesn't have to be used.

But after seeing what happened in Newfoundland and Labrador when an outbreak of the U.K. variant of COVID-19 caused confusion over the election—which was eventually postponed—he wants to be ready.

"What we've seen in the neighbouring elections, that there has been major lack of clarity in the process. We're just trying to be proactive and making clear that the process is very understood across the province." Allain said.

The legislation also gives direction to the electoral officer when it comes to restarting the election, along with a timeline once the lockdown is lifted.

Daniel Allain, the Minister of Local Government and Local Governance Reform, says it's important to plan ahead, in case a lockdown happens during municipal elections.
Daniel Allain, the Minister of Local Government and Local Governance Reform, says it's important to plan ahead, in case a lockdown happens during municipal elections.(Ed Hunter/CBC News)

Reporting for results from health zones not impacted by a lockdown would also be stopped until all voting is complete and the results are tabulated.

"As the boundaries for district education councils and regional health authorities do not align with the public health zones - and electors have the ability to cast a ballot for their local elections from any returning office in the province - delaying the reporting of results until all voting is completed is necessary," said municipal electoral officer Kim Poffenroth.

Meanwhile, the province's 23 returning offices will open Monday, March 22. They'll start accepting candidate nominations for the 717 positions available. Nominations close at 2 p.m., on April 9.

"The decisions being made by municipal councils, district education councils and regional health authority boards, they impact the day to day lives of every person in this province." Poffenroth said.

Voters can apply for vote-by-mail packages beginning March 22, but they won't printed until April 19. Once the ballots are printed, voters can go to a returning office to cast their ballot.

There are also advance polls planned for Saturday, May 1 and Monday, May 3.

Last year's municipal elections were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The election will now be held on May 10.
Last year's municipal elections were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The election will now be held on May 10.(Gary Moore/CBC)

Poffenroth said she would encourage people to visit the Elections New Brunswick website to find out more about the positions available and what's involved in becoming a nominated candidate.

"So often there are positions that are either acclaimed or even at the end of election day are vacant because no one has run for a position." she said.

"Democracy and decision making is best served when voters have a diverse slate of candidates to choose from and when there's a lot of different voices around the table to participate in the decision making." Poffenroth said.

Poffenroth says COVID-19 precautions will be taken during the election, including mask wearing, sanitizing and physical distancing.

Poffenroth is hopeful things will run smoothly, but says she's glad there is legislation that would provide direction in the event of a lockdown from COVID-19.

"It's very important to have very clear authority about who can do what and when they can do it, especially when you're talking about something as fundamental as a democratic election." she said.