Although the Conservative party has said triggering a fall federal election is not a “priority,” Elections Canada is still preparing for that possibility amid the coronavirus pandemic.
And if a fall election were to happen, a new Angus Reid poll shows that more than half of Canadians would be comfortable voting in person.
The poll released Thursday showed that 43 per cent of respondents would be “completely comfortable” casting an in-person ballot. Thirty per cent said they would be “more comfortable than uncomfortable.” Seven per cent of the respondents said they were “completely uncomfortable” with it, while 20 per cent said they would be “more uncomfortable than comfortable.”
In August, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet threatened to force an election in the fall if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his chief of staff Katie Telford, and now-former finance minister Bill Morneau did not resign in the wake of the WE Charity scandal.
The Liberals control only a minority of seats in Parliament, meaning they need the support of at least one other opposition party to pass legislation and survive any votes of confidence.
New Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole previously told Global News that forcing a confidence vote is “not my priority.”
But if the Conservatives do head into an election, it may work in their favour.
Canadians who voted Conservative in the last election were the most likely to feel “completely comfortable” voting in person (66 per cent), according to the poll. On the flip side, only 26 per cent of those who voted NDP said they would be “very comfortable” with it.
The poll also showed differences in age, gender and region for the issue. Men aged 35-54 (56 per cent) were far more likely than women aged 35-54 (37 per cent) to be “completely comfortable” voting in person in a hypothetical election.
Respondents who lived in Alberta (55 per cent) were more likely to feel very comfortable with voting in person than those living in B.C. (35 per cent).
“Alberta and the Liberals just don’t jive that well, so they may be willing to go into an election just to get a Conservative in,” said Audrey Brennan, a political science PhD candidate at Université Laval and Université libre de Bruxelles.
In terms of Canadians who aren’t comfortable voting in a hypothetical fall election, Brennan said it’s because voting in a time of a pandemic is complex.
“It might not be that the election is not important, but rather, people are wanting to deal with a pandemic before talking about an election,” she explained.
What would an election during COVID-19 look like?
Despite the unknowns of a fall election, Election Canada is still preparing for voting during a pandemic.
“We are always ready to have an election as we don’t control when that happens,” said Elections Canada spokesperson Natasha Gauthier. “Because there is a minority government, an election can come any time.”
However, because of coronavirus, she said the election would not be a carbon-copy of October 2019, as there would be a lot of changes.
Some changes that are already being planned include: physical distancing at polling stations; supplying masks for staff and voters; and providing single-use pencils.
Elections Canada would also remove the “vote on campus services,” as most colleges and universities are mostly offering online classes.
Gauthier said the agency will also be proposing an amendment to the Elections Act to Parliament in late September.
One of the amendments is a two-day weekend polling period (Saturday and Sunday) instead of the usually single polling day on Monday.
“Having voting on the weekend would mean we have access to polling locations that we usually don’t have access to, like bigger schools, so people can socially distance more,” she said. “We can also recruit more volunteers, as people have the flexibility to work on the weekends.”
Gauthier said the concept of a two-day voting period would work the same as a single one: you would get a voting information card and it will tell you the location and hours of the polling site.
The second big amendment Elections Canada is looking into is a change in the mail-in ballots system.
She said, Elections Canada expects an increase in mail-in ballots during coronavirus, so they are hoping to extend the deadline.
“Mail-in ballots need to be received by the end of the polling day,” she said. “After that, it does not count. But we want the amendment to allow us to continue to accept mail-in ballots 24 hours after election day.”
Gautier said Elections Canada has been keeping a close eye on New Brunswick as a learning tool, as it’s the first province in Canada to send voters to the polls in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Brunswickers will head to the polls on Sept. 14, and Elections New Brunswick has already reported a 50 per cent increase in mail-in ballots from the previous election.
In terms of what election day will look like for the province, Elections New Brunswick said voters will be asked to apply hand sanitizer as they enter the building, workers will be required to wear masks, and whenever possible, two-metre social distancing will be enforced.
The number of electors allowed in a voting location at any one time will also be limited. Electors will be encouraged to bring a non-medical mask with them when they come to vote.
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