The matter of when, precisely, the election will happen was the subject of much yelling in the House of Assembly on Thursday afternoon, with Liberal Leader Dwight Ball brandishing a sheaf of correspondence from Victor Powers, the province’s chief electoral officer.
Ball says the election can be held in September, whereas Davis says it has to happen in November.
All of this is complicated by a few different issues that are getting muddled together: the province’s fixed election date law, Davis’s move to redraw the electoral map and the federal election slated to happen Oct. 19.
The fixed election date law says an election must be called within one year of a new premier taking over — in this case, called by Sept. 26, when Davis was sworn-in. But if Davis did call an election then, it would happen around the same time as the federal election, and nearly everyone agrees that overlapping elections is a really bad idea.
In a letter to all three party leaders, Powers said it would cause concerns for Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Conducting a provincial election which may overlap with the federal election period could lead to many logistical issues for the public, the parties, the candidates and election officials,” Powers wrote.
Along with the general confusion of mixed campaign messages, Powers also said both federal and provincial election campaigns typically use many of the same workers, so with two campaigns going on at once, it would be tough to find the people to staff the polls.
Further complicating matters, Justice Robert Stack is currently heading an electoral boundaries commission, which will redraw the province’s political map and reduce the number of seats in the House of Assembly from 48 to 40.
Elections NL needs two months, at the very least, to implement the changes and prepare for the election.
The solution to all of this, Davis says, is to push the election a couple of months down the road, to late November. He said he expects the electoral boundaries commission’s final report on Monday, and he will introduce legislation into the House of Assembly implementing the new boundaries and changing the election date then.
Ball has previously said he would be OK with exactly such a course of action. Thursday, though, Ball painted the idea of delaying an election as something very different, and insisted the provincial election could be held in the middle of the federal campaign.
“If the premier wanted, he could have had our election over before the federal election,” Ball said during question period in the legislature. “I ask the premier: why are you ignoring that a September election is a possibility, and instead trying to push the election out to November for your own purposes?”
NDP Leader Earle McCurdy, meanwhile, said cutting the number of seats in the legislature is bad policy to begin with, since it disproportionately effects rural Newfoundland.
However, he said since that’s happening, moving the election to November was fine.