Months before the coronavirus hit Nova Scotia, staff at Halifax Regional Municipality said the budget for this year’s municipal election was about $2.3 million.
If the election goes ahead as planned, which so far appears to be the case (unless, of course, the COVID-19 situation worsens and makes it too risky health-wise), will that budget figure still stand?
The answer is yes, according to a spokesperson with the municipality.
“At this time, it’s anticipated that the current budget will accommodate additional staff required for cleaning and any additional cleaning supplies needed,” Maggie-Jane Spray said recently.
Nova Scotia’s minister of municipal affairs and housing says there will be civic elections in this province in October.
Chuck Porter has urged municipalities to stay on track regarding voting-preparation measures that must be in place prior to the Oct. 17 election.
In May, a letter from Porter to the president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities said this: “I encourage municipalities to continue their preparations for an October election with the current public health protocols in mind; specifically, the requirements around social distancing.”
Halifax’s former returning officer said last November the election budget covers such things as hiring temporary workers, renting space for polling stations, ballots and technological services.
Managing an election safely during a pandemic isn’t something the municipality’s staff could have imagined eight months ago. Polling place modifications, hand sanitizers and virus-related signs and floor stickers weren’t on staff’s radar.
Spray told HalifaxToday.ca the municipality hires about 1,000 workers for advanced polling and election day. Early polling is to take place Oct. 10 to 13, she said.
Asked when the election’s bottom line will likely be known to city hall, Spray said via email on July 28 that “the final (cost) . . . would be determined by the end of 2020 or by early 2021.”
The last day for candidate nominations to be filed is Sept. 8, according to election material on HRM’s website.
A state of emergency hooked to COVID-19 was declared in this province on March 22, and is in place at least until Aug. 9.
One veteran Halifax council member says the jury’s still out concerning the running of the municipal election in October.
“We could have (a) shutdown in September,” Russell Walker told NEWS 95.7 in late July. He represents Halifax-Bedford Basin West but isn’t reoffering this year.
“(If) the second wave (of the coronavirus) hits and we’re shut down in September,” then voting could be delayed, Walker suggested.
Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth