HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is on the verge of joining the rest of the country in adopting a fixed date for elections.
The new Progressive Conservative government proposed amendments to the Elections Act Wednesday that would see elections in the province held every four years, on the third Tuesday of July. That would put the next one on July 15, 2025.
Every other province and territory already has legislation for fixed election dates, as does the federal government.
Premier Tim Houston told reporters the new date makes sense because the early summer is a time when schools are vacant and can be used as polling stations. He said the date is also close to the Aug. 17 election that saw the Tories surge to a majority win with 31 seats in the 55 seat legislature.
"We thought that we would give people four years notice, and that's a date that just made sense to us," Houston said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said it's "long been an embarrassment" that the province is the only in the country without a fixed election date, however he questioned the day chosen by the Tories.
"The object with democratic reform is to enhance and support (voter) engagement," said Burrill. "So what part of the year are people less engaged than about the dead centre of July? It seems to me that this really goes against the purpose of having fixed election dates."
He said dates in the spring or fall, where the majority of elections have been set in legislation across Canada, is preferable.
Just over 55 per cent of registered voters cast ballots in the province's August election — a figure close to a historic low for Nova Scotia. In fact, records from Elections Nova Scotia show a steady drop in voter turnout over the decades, from 82 per cent in 1960 to a low of 53.4 per cent in the 2017 general election won by the Liberals.
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin, who called the last election, welcomed the idea of a fixed date but also reserved judgment on exactly when the vote should be held.
"We know that the summertime generally has lower voter turnout," said Rankin. "We will be looking at other provinces to see what they have put forward and then we will come back with a position."
Under the proposed changes, the chief electoral officer could choose an alternate date if the fixed date conflicts with a civic or religious holiday or overlaps with a federal or municipal election.
The changes would not affect the lieutenant-governor's constitutional authority to dissolve the legislature at the advice of the premier, and they also wouldn't prevent a government from being toppled should it lose a vote of non-confidence.
According to the province, having a fixed election date could create about $500,000 in operational savings for Elections Nova Scotia while making it easier for the agency to attract election workers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2021.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press