Spring election put on hold
KATIE TOWER SACKVILLE TRIBUNE POST
SACKVILLE, N.B. – Mayors and councillors across the province will sit in office a bit longer than they expected. New Brunswick has postponed this spring’s municipal elections as a result of concerns over COVID-19, a decision that local officials are saying is wise. “I think it was the right move to cancel the May 11 municipal elections,” said Sackville Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, who, before the outbreak of COVID-19 began to emerge in New Brunswick, was getting set to ramp up his campaign to run for mayor. Aiken said municipal elections are contact-heavy events, first with door-todoor campaigning and second with polling day activities. “So, for both voters and poll workers, the risks are inordinately high,” he said. The provincial government passed the necessary legislation last week to delay municipal elections, which also includes the elections of district education councils, regional health authorities and local service districts. Two provincial byelections, scheduled for June 15, have also been postponed. “With the large number of electors, polling stations and poll workers, there was no safe way to undertake the municipal election at this time,” said Kim Poffenroth, New Brunswick’s chief electoral officer. Dorchester Mayor Jerome Bear, who was set to step down from municipal politics in May, said the postponement is unfortunate, but “understandable under the circumstances.” He said mayors and councils will be looked upon to provide stability and leadership during this time of uncertainty so it’s good to have people in place who have a minimum of a four-year term under their belt. Bear said he is committed to representing his village until such time as a new council is ready to take over, whenever that may be. “It is important that we ensure the health and safety of our residents and if this means postponing the election until it is safe to do so, then I am happy with that,” he said. Port Elgin Mayor Judy Scott agreed, saying while this postponement adds an unexpected extension onto council’s terms, it was a necessary measure. “I feel that under the circumstances they certainly made the correct decision.” Sackville town councillor Shawn Mesheau said keeping New Brunswickers safe was at the heart of this decision. “I truly believe it was the right thing to do in ensuring we keep the health of all of us at the forefront during this very critical time in reducing the transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” he said. Mesheau said he will continue to serve his community as he has been and will be focused on ensuring the community remains diligent in dealing with this pandemic. Fellow councillor Allison Butcher agreed that the public’s health is the top priority at this time. “When health-care professionals and our federal and provincial governments are recommending social distancing and self-isolation, it would be irresponsible to expect people to campaign and/ or congregate to vote,” said Butcher. Although the provincial government hasn’t announced a new date, it seems as if it could be May 2021 before an election is held. Aiken explained that Elections NB needs about four months to get ready for an election; so if a new election was called again this May, the earliest one could happen would be September. But an election in the fall could impact the ability of local governments to prepare and pass budgets. “This could be a challenging time to start their mandate,” he said.