Group quits contract with N.S. government, worried about rushing fall elections

ÉLECTIONS

A group hired to encourage candidate and voter participation in the municipal elections this fall has withdrawn from a contract with the Nova Scotia government over a host of concerns with the October vote.

In an open letter to Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Chuck Porter, Springtide Executive Director Mark Coffin says this will be the most complicated and challenging election to administer in Canadian history.

He says Nova Scotia municipalities have nearly as many independent election administrations as there are states in America, and voters will elect more councillors and mayors than there are Members of Parliament in Canada.

The elections are scheduled for October, less than four months away, and Coffin says that the procedures to determine how election day will be done safely and fairly don’t yet exist.

One of the factors listed for Springtide's decision was how moving ahead with the municipal elections would affect the groups the department asked them to prioritize with their educational programming "Local Decisions"; those in communities that are consistently underrepresented as candidates and councillors in municipalities across Nova Scotia.

Those groups include women, African Nova Scotians, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, and other people of color.

Coffin says, "Many of the people in these groups have already been more adversely affected by the health and socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic."

He adds, "The incumbents I’ve spoken with acknowledge the advantage is their own in this election."

Coffin also notes that many rural and low-income Nova Scotians do not have home internet access and cannot access voting opportunities from home.

He says some of those voters are immuno-compromised and remain fearful of visiting public places where they might be able to vote online.

In April, Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM) President Pam Mood sent a letter to Porter questioning whether Nova Scotia will be able to uphold a fair and democratic election.

She said preparing for an election under the current circumstances will increase the operational burden already faced by municipal staff across the province.

In his reply, Porter said postponement "was examined" but a number of municipalities have vacancies on council, so an election delay beyond October would leave thousands of Nova Scotians will not have a representative at the table.

Coffin says this is misleading as the Municipal Elections Act grants Porter the power to schedule by-elections for the vacant seats at a time of his choosing.