New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs is coming under fire for calling a provincial election that could deprive both older and younger people of an opportunity to vote.
“In my mind, Mr. Higgs saw an opportunity to have a low voter turnout and he’s grappling onto this opportunity to try to get a majority government,” says Brien Watson, President of the New Brunswick division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
He was referring to Elections NB’s decision to dispense with the normal practice of putting polling stations in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to make it easier for the elderly to vote.
“This was needless to call the election at this time. All parties were working together just fine,” Watson adds, “so there was no need except for him to try and have a power grab.”
Elections NB says that because of the sudden election call with the shortest possible 28-day campaign period, it won’t have the time or staff to set up polling stations as it normally does in long-term care facilities or on university and college campuses.
Wasiimah Joomun, executive director of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, says that decision is disappointing and disheartening because many students are first-time voters unfamiliar with the election process.
“Having on-campus polling stations really eases that process for them because not only is it a familiar space and environment for them, but also you have volunteers on campus that can help them,” she says.
Joomun points out that New Brunswick students living away from home were also able to vote more easily in their home ridings at the campus polling stations.
She says the early September election will deprive some students, who are new to the province, of the right to vote because they will not have resided in New Brunswick for the required 40 days before the election.
Jonathan Ferguson, president of the Mount Allison Students Union (MASU), says the situation is not as serious in Sackville as at other universities because the main polling station at the Civic Centre is not far from the university, but he adds that MASU agrees the lack of on-campus voting does present a barrier to some students.
Meantime, Elections NB says residents of long-term care facilities will be able to vote by mail-in ballot, but Watson says nursing homes don’t have enough staff to assist elderly voters.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen that the nursing home workers, they don’t have time to do something like that,” he adds.
Watson says that by calling a snap election, Higgs prevented the legislature from giving Elections NB the power to conduct voting in other ways such as by telephone or during special polling times set aside for the elderly or people with compromised immune systems.
“We’re in a pandemic, a world pandemic, times we have never seen before in our lifetime and things like that need to be taken into consideration for people’s lives and health and safety,” Watson says.
Mount Allison politics professor Geoff Martin agrees.
“It really becomes an illustration of the problem of having an election during the pandemic,” he says.
“It’s going to be inconvenient enough for people in general to vote because of concerns about showing up at the polling stations in person,” he adds, “and it’s a shame to discourage young people from getting involved in the system.”
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He currently writes for The New Wark Times where an earlier version of this story first appeared.