Elections Canada ready to run a snap election during a pandemic, says chief electoral officer


Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault said today that Elections Canada is prepared to run a snap election, despite the roadblocks imposed by the pandemic.

During an appearance before the Commons procedures and House affairs earlier today — one day after the Liberal government survived a confidence vote that could have plunged the country into a sudden general election — Perrault outlined the various challenges involved in holding an election during a public health crisis, such as ensuring the safety of workers and voters and managing a higher volume of mail-in ballots.

“A national election is a logistical feat in the best of circumstances, and these are not the best of circumstances,” Perrault said.

“That said, we would have delivered an election. It would have, in my view, been a successful election, and it would have included all the health and safety measures that have been recommended to us and that we have prepared for.”

Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault says he is confident a federal election could be held successfully during a pandemic. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Conservatives have been calling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for threatening to call an election during the pandemic. The government declared a Conservative motion on creating a special committee to probe the government’s COVID-19 response a matter of confidence — which meant a successful vote for the opposition would have triggered an election.

The motion was defeated in a 180-146 vote Wednesday, with the NDP, Greens and Independent MPs voting with the Liberals.

Perrault said Elections Canada has been hard at work ensuring measures are in place to hold a safe and secure vote, and that he has been reviewing the experiences of provincial elections agencies. He said he’s also been talking with Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam and Privy Council Office officials.

Perrault urged parliamentarians to move swiftly to consider legislative changes that would facilitate an election during a pandemic, such as a two-day weekend polling period instead of the traditional one-day Monday vote.

“This would allow for a steadier flow of electors over two weekend days, encouraging physical distancing as opposed to the clustering of electors that takes place at the polls at the start and finish of a Monday workday,” he said.

Weekend voting proposed

“Weekend voting would also assist in securing polling locations and in recruiting the very large number of poll workers that are required to run a federal election. For some electors and candidates, weekend voting may be in conflict with days of religious significance. However, the two-day period, in addition to other voting options, such as voting by mail and advance polls, would provide flexibility.” 

Perrault said weekend voting also would help to attract a more diverse pool of election workers, who tend to be retirees.

Perrault is also recommending:

  • That mail-in ballots be accepted until Monday after the weekend voting period.
  • Legislation to allow Elections Canada to deliver tailored voting services in long-term care facilities to suit “unique circumstances.”
  • More flexible powers in the pandemic context to postpone or cancel a vote in emergency situations.

Perrault said that power would be exercised on a riding-by-riding basis in circumstances that make it impractical to hold the vote — such as a widespread lockdown due to the pandemic.

An election during the pandemic could cost an extra $50 million due to the need for items like masks and hand sanitizer, and for health-awareness campaigns and prepaid postage, Perrault said.

He said having a longer writ period would help elections officials manage a pandemic election by giving them time to send out up to five million mail-in ballots. It also would give them a longer period to search for new locations for polling stations, since schools and community centres might not want to risk infections, Perrault said.

The work of engaging with demographics that face systemic challenges in voting — such as homeless Canadians and Indigenous communities under tight travel restrictions — would also benefit from more time, he said.



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