(CBC - image credit)
It's been an interesting — and quite busy — few days of election watch in Newfoundland and Labrador.
It's been so busy, in fact, that we had to park our daily run of the Election Notebook to focus on the pandemic response, as COVID-19 cases in the St. John's-metro area drastically spiked this week, throwing all plans out the window.
But with the spike in cases came some complications for the election, a two-pronged attack on the news cycle.
Staffing problems, related to the influx of new cases, began to surface from Elections NL returning offices in the metro area, while PC Leader Ches Crosbie and NDP Leader Alison Coffin were once again critical of Liberal Leader Andrew Furey's snap election call. Furey called the delay a "welcomed pause."
Elections NL's chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald played hot potato on who was ultimately responsible for making the decision to delay the election. A drive-thru voting plan was also floated for voters who would have been stuck in isolation during Saturday's election day. It was to be held in a parking lot at Confederation Building, but was scrapped as Chaulk said Thursday he would instead postpone voting for 18 of 40 of the province's electoral districts.
An extension has been granted for voting by mail in the affected districts, with the deadline to apply for a special ballot set for Saturday at 8 p.m. These votes must be mailed back by Feb. 25.
But elsewhere election day will run as normal, with voters heading to the polls in person in the 22 districts that remain unaffected. Precautions have been made to ensure things will run safely for those who choose to venture out, such as the polling station in Curling being moved to a larger space, according to Independent candidate Eddie Joyce. The results from these polls won't be counted until all voting has concluded.
Welcome back to the Election Notebook.
Things are weird
It almost feels like there are two elections running. Some candidates in the 22 unaffected districts spent their final day on the trail on Friday, while political parties and candidates in the remaining 18 districts can continue to campaign after Saturday's vote.
What is certain is things have been different this time around the election cycle, and Joyce would know. Joyce, who is running as the incumbent for Humber–Bay of Islands, has been in the political ring for 31 years. He finished his campaign on Wednesday.
In a regular campaign, he said, it would be normal to be invited inside a voter's home for tea, cake or lunch while on the trail. This year, that's a no-go. Large functions have also been shut down, to eliminate exposure to large groups and organizations, he said, while drumming up support.
As for Saturday, "It's going to be quiet," Joyce said.
"And you're missing the celebration, or the disappointment on Saturday night, too, election night. That's a big part of it. The whole group getting together.… Hopefully down the road — it may take a while — hopefully we'll all get together to be able to do that."
Tom Stewart, the PC candidate for Corner Brook, also scaled back his campaign on Wednesday as he halted door-to-door interaction with voters and took up working from home.
"We've really haven't had a situation where an election has been called and then we kind of have to stop midway like we're doing now, or like we're doing tomorrow, having half an election," Stewart said.
"It's very odd, it's very unique … and one we're going to be reading about decades ahead in our history books."
History, sure, but the pandemic reality on the east coast of the province is beginning to move across the island. Stewart said he sees the psychology of what's going on in his own community, despite the Western Health region having only five active cases while the Eastern Health region has 251.
"A lot of people are returning to wearing masks in their vehicles," he said.
"Hopefully we can encourage people to vote. It is safe to vote get groceries still. As long we have our masks on and do the things we've been doing, we can still move ahead."
How about a little jam with your election?
Songwriter Sean Panting took in the recent viral trend of sea shanties and came up with his own. But instead of seafaring sailors longing for home, Panting flipped the script and wrote about something we can all relate to.
Panting said he had trouble writing the tune because this election cycle has been a little bland.
"Usually there's sort of a big event that happens, or somebody says something a little out of left field or there's sort of a hook there. This election really hasn't been that way," Panting told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning show.
"This whole election cycle seems so tame, especially when you compare it to what we've been watching in the media over the last year or so in the United States. The bar is just so much higher for what constitutes weird."
But, Panting said, the song isn't solely about the weird or obscure. In fact, he noted, the message is about exercising your right to vote.
Regardless of how you feel about the process, he noted, there will still be a winner in the end.
"So would you like to have a part in determining who that person is? My opinion always [is], if you don't vote then you don't get to do the thing that people enjoy doing most, which is complain about the outcome," he said.