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On Friday January 15 at 6 p.m., persistent rumours of an imminent provincial election were vindicated. Premier Andrew Furey called an election for Saturday February 13, allowing for four weeks of campaigning.
The call came as no surprise to many political watchers given the flurry of funding announcements made by the Liberal government last week.
However, this will be the first provincial election to take place in winter since 1999. The timing of the election has been criticized by all three opposition parties: the Progressive Conservatives (PCs), the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the NL Alliance.
Furey has maintained in public appearances that now is as good a time as any to hold an election. According to provincial law, Furey had to call an election within a year of becoming premier. He replaced Dwight Ball as Liberal leader in August 2020.
There has been some criticism of the choice to hold a campaign during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and early stages of the vaccine rollout in the province. Unpredictable winter weather has also been cited as a concern going into the election.
Beyond these factors, the election date is also slated to be held prior to the release of the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team (PERT) interim report, due on February 28.
PERT, assembled in the fall of 2020, consists of leaders in the business, community, and social sectors with experience in such areas as technology, finance, oil and gas, labour, and the public service. It is headed by Dame Moya Greene, a Newfoundlander who has served as CEO for Canada Post as well as the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail. (Greene was instrumental in the privatization of the Royal Mail in 2014.)
There are fears that the report will call for austerity measures, and concerns about the secrecy surrounding the process. Mary Shortall, President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, resigned from PERT in January.
Furey addressed criticism of calling the election prior to the report’s release in a Facebook post, writing: “I want to address the misinformation out there about the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team’s report. Dame Moya Greene is not the Premier. They are tasked with generating big ideas to reimagine government — with government making decisions.”
“The recommendations that Dame Moya Greene and her task force will put forward are just those— recommendations. They will receive thorough consultation here. Everyone will have the chance to have a say and we will table that final report in the House of Assembly. PERT is a group of talented, diverse individuals volunteering to generate big ideas for a sustainable future.”
Despite criticizing the decision to call an election at this time, opposition party leaders expressed that they were ready for the campaign.
What’s at Stake?
Three other provinces have held elections during the Covid-19 pandemic: New Brunswick, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan. All three of those elections resulted in majority governments for the governing parties who launched the campaigns. New Brunswick and British Columbia were both led by minority governments when their respective writs dropped.
The Liberals have held a minority government in Newfoundland and Labrador since the last election in May 2019. The province continues to face a critical economic situation, with mounting debt and a high degree of reliance on an offshore industry facing unprecedented challenges.
While full party platforms are not available yet, a steady stream of announcements from party leaders have been made.
The Liberals have highlighted plans focused on healthy living and situating Newfoundland and Labrador as a leader in eHealth/telemedicine. The NDP have also homed in on health, calling for expanded dental care for seniors.
The PCs have promised economic incentives to lure remote workers to the province. They have also promised to reduce payroll taxes and to develop a venture capital fund of $10 million to help companies expand their footprint in the province and expand exports.
The leader of the NL Alliance, Graydon Pelley, was forced to suspend his campaign due to a medical emergency on January 17. Founded in 2018, the NL Alliance describes itself as “a movement of thought and ideas that will help be the change that takes back our province from the interests that have controlled it for too long.”
Other candidates from the NL Alliance are continuing to campaign in a handful of districts.
What Will the Process Look Like?
The election has been scheduled to take place on a Saturday—the first time in provincial history—in order to access large venues such as schools, which can facilitate physical distancing measures at the polling stations.
Elections NL states that elections will be administered in accordance with provincial public health measures.
Any qualified elector can apply for a Special Ballot and cast their vote by mail. The deadline to apply for a Special Ballot is 6:00 p.m., Saturday, February 6. Early voting is also available at every district office in the province.
While campaigning is expected to rely more heavily on social media and streamed events, candidates across party lines have already been seen knocking on doors (and stepping back two metres) to drum up support.
At the dissolution of the General Assembly on Friday, there were 19 Liberal Members, 15 Progressive Conservative Members, 3 New Democratic Members, and 3 Independent/ Non-Affiliated Members.
The PCs published a full slate of 40 candidates on January 17.
The NL Alliance is running candidates in 5 districts in addition to Pelley’s suspended run in Humber-Gros Morne, where he would be up against Andrew Furey and Jim Goudie (PC).
Independent candidates are running in Mount Pearl-Southlands (incumbent Paul Lane), Humber-Bay of Islands (incumbent Eddie Joyce), and Lake Melville (Andrew Abass and incumbent Perry Trimper).
Candidate nominations close on Saturday, January 23, 2020 at 2 p.m.
For more information on the election process and to register to vote, head to Elections NL
Photo by Zach Bonnell.
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