No. 7August 25, 2021
Returning Officers are at the end of their tether and the election is only into its tenth day. Imagine this: one returning office in the Toronto region requires 900 staff. Across the country, in its 338 ridings, more than 250,000 election workers have to be hired. Add to this the fact that the electoral law stipulates that half of the positions must be held open for seven days so that parties and candidates who participated in the previous election can fill them with recommended people. That leaves less than 30 days to conduct interviews and hire.
Keep in mind that many of the people who typically fill these positions, mostly seniors, are not going to be available because of COVID concerns. Elections Canada made a proposal to the parliamentary committee in charge of electoral law matters to change polling day from the single 12-hour day on Monday September 20, to two 8-hour days on Saturday and Sunday to enlarge the pool of available hirees, among other reasons. Furthermore, Elections Canada said the conditions of working a 12-hour day, wearing masks, would be difficult and expressed fears that some might even walk off the job. This proposal was rejected by the committee.
On top of that, the Liberals self-servingly chose the back to school period to hold this election. Parents, students and teachers have their hands full with getting the school year up and running. Because of the past year with online learning and total uncertainty as to what precautions are required this year, everyone is doubly worried. Thus, parents and students are also not available to fill the posts with Elections Canada.
But this is not all. Returning Officers have had to face a lot more than that in the first ten days of this irresponsible campaign. They had to become familiar with the Political Entities Service Portal (PESC). PESC is an online system for candidate registration which is quite complicated to use because of all the built in security protocols which have to be followed and it still has various kinks which Elections Canada is doing its best to address. It was used for the first time in the 2019 election but only now with the COVID pandemic is its use becoming widespread and this entails an extra learning curve and attention. Returning Officers are also having to learn how to hold virtual meetings with candidates to minimize physical contact, all of it using online security protocols.
An additional challenge is the fact that many people are coming to the Returning Officers to get mail-in ballots. One returning officer pointed out that without a full complement of staff he was faced with 500 people in the first week coming in for mail-in ballots. These ballots cannot just be handed out. Full information has to be taken down from each applicant to safeguard the integrity of the vote and then the kits have to be created and mailed out. While electors can apply online for their mail-in ballots, clearly many do not have the means to do so, either because they don’t have the capacity or ability to scan identification documents, or they may not be computer literate at all or have access to the necessary equipment. And even if they do, it is their right to come in person to get a mail-in ballot.
So for those of you out there who are really frustrated at why your meetings with returning officers are delayed — time and time again — imagine how frustrated the Returning Officers are.
This is a seriously irresponsible COVID election.
On August 23, Ontario reported 639 new cases of COVID-19. Of those, 124 people (21 per cent) were fully vaccinated, 65 were partially vaccinated and the remainder were unvaccinated. Of people in hospital in Ontario on the same day, 23 were fully vaccinated, nine were partially vaccinated and 103 were unvaccinated.
Stories circulating from across Canada report similar statistics with hotspots reported in Windsor, Ontario, Parkside Extendicare senior’s home in Regina, Saskatchewan, and other places. The Parkside Extendicare outbreak is particularly worrisome given that the same thing happened during the first round of the pandemic during which 39 people died in this facilility.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, on August 12 reported that the fourth wave of COVID-19 was underway. This was before Justin Trudeau called the election. This makes the election call a very irresponsible unjustifiable act indeed. Since then, the number of cases and hospitalizations has continued to increase, putting increased pressure on the health care system and health care workers and leading to local health authorities introducing stricter public health guidelines in certain regions.
In her statement of August 20 in which she provided the most up-to-date information, Dr. Tam said: “The latest national seven-day average of 2,216 new cases reported daily (August 13-19) is an increase of 38 per cent over the previous week. After several weeks of rising case counts in some of Canada’s most populous jurisdictions, national severity trends have begun to increase, primarily involving unvaccinated people. The latest provincial and territorial data show that an average of 648 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day period (August 13-19), which is 22 per cent higher than last week. This includes, on average 262 people who were being treated in intensive care units (ICU), 24 per cent more than last week and an average of 5 deaths were reported daily (August 13-19).”
She pointed out that there are several key features of the fourth wave in terms of infections and severe outcomes. The majority of recently reported cases are in unvaccinated people and are of the “highly contagious Delta Variant of Concern (VOC)” which is associated with increased severity and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. She also warned that “Virus spread in areas with low vaccination coverage presents an ongoing risk for emergence of and replacement by new VOCs, including a risk of VOCs with the ability to evade vaccine protection.”
She emphasized the importance of everyone who is eligible getting fully vaccinated.
She added that since COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada and internationally, core public health care measures remain important to reduce its spread, including “stay home/self-isolate if you have symptoms; be aware of risks associated with different settings; avoid non-essential travel outside Canada; and maintain individual protective practices such as physical distancing and wearing a well-fitted and properly worn face mask, as appropriate.”
Besides the necessity of taking all the public health recommended precautions to protect against COVID-19, another conclusion Canadians can draw is that calling an election in the middle of a pandemic is irresponsible, to say the least.
(To access articles individually click on the black headline.)
Send your articles, photographs, reports, views and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org