Charlene Johnson quit the legislature first.
The chief electoral office has been plugging special ballot voting in the seat she vacated since the early part of October. For those who don’t know, you can vote in Newfoundland and Labrador up to 30 days before the writ drops in any election. In other words, there is no election at all and no candidates but you can vote. The catch is you have to vote for a party.
Yes, it’s all completely nutty but such is life in Newfoundland and Labrador under the provincial Conservatives. And yes, SRBP and others have gone through it all many times before.
Anyway, under changes the Conservatives made to local election laws, they have to call the by-election in Trinity-Bay de Verde by November 5, 2014.
On Tuesday, the provincial government announced there will be a by-election in Conception Bay South on November 5, 2014.
Terry French quit the legislature on September 18, 2014. He used to represent Conception Bay South. The provincial Conservatives had until November 18 to call that by-election. Logically, you’d think they’d go in sequence or maybe even call the two of them together.
Trying to win one, for a change
That’s why it’s so odd that they called the one vacated second to be the first to go to the polls. Well, odd, except for a couple of things.
First, the Conservatives know they cannot fight two by-elections at the same time. Your humble e-scribbler has been pointing this out for some time now. Here’s your confirmation.
Second, the Conservatives evidently think they can squeak out a win in a seat near St. John’s that is right next to the one held by Premier Paul Davis.
It might work.
Might. But frankly, the publicly available polls don’t look like that is possible And, the Conservative performance thus far in by-elections doesn’t lead one to believe they might be able to win the CBS seat.
They are going to give it a shot, though. Pull out all the stops and all that. If they manage to win, the Conservatives can then head to the second by-election with a bit of the stink of death off them.
If the Conservatives lose CBS, then that’s all they could do. They’ll have a run at Trinity-Bay de Verde and probably lose there as well. That’s what the polls and such are showing so it won’t be any surprise.
But hang on sez you, that’s only two by-elections. There’s supposed to be a third one.
Aren’t you are smart one? Tom Marshall is still a member of the House. A few weeks ago he was talking about how he planned to quit as quickly as he could. As it now seems, the Conservatives have persuaded Tom to hang around for a bit. That’s so they can avoid having three by-elections in a row, all over before Christmas.
Tom’s staying put. No fall sitting of the House.
Look at the calendar and you can see how this is likely to play out. The CBS by-election will be done by November 5. They called it with 22 days clear notice, when the election law sets the minimum campaign period at 21 days.
Somewhere around November 5, they will call Trinity-Bay de Verde. Twenty-one days clear notice puts you somewhere around the 27th of November. They aren’t going to run another election between then and Christmas, even if the time is there to do it. And they wouldn’t even want to go to the polls sometime in the first few months of next year either.
Given that the Conservatives will be running hard in by-elections all through November, the odds are against them calling the House before the spring. Yes, folks, they won’t have a fall sitting. That will allow Tom to bugger off to Florida or golf or whatever he wants to do without having to face the scrutiny of the Speaker for his absence.
That will just be a by-product of the decision. Officially, Paul will be getting ready for a good spring session and a budget and maybe even an election early in the New Year. Not enough time to get ready for the fall sitting and all that. We’ve heard the same drivel in 2007 and again in 2011.
Right now, the Conservatives are planning to go to the polls next spring. They could either open the House and then go to the voters on the basis of a good budget. Or they might try and get in a quickie before they have to unveil a bad budget. Polling numbers will influence their final decision and so the election they now think might happen in March or thereabouts could be put off until the fall.
Tom will be gone long before that, but for now, signs are that Tom he is going to hang around for a while.
I am my own electoral grandpa, with a vengeance
There’s one last thing to notice in all this. Remember those special ballots people could cast 30 days before the writ drops? Yeah, well one of the many problems with this nutball idea of voting before an election is that no one - except the Premier - knows when the writ will actually drop. Since you don’t know when the writ drops, you can’t know when 30 days ahead of that will be.
You can’t sensibly administer a rule like this. Since there could be an election any time, you could have people voting continuously. That would be completely crazy. What the electoral office has done is start special balloting about 30 days ahead of the last day on which the government could call a by-election. It’s not strictly in keeping with what the election law says, but it’s an effort to make it work.
The CBS by-election shows why this special ballot stuff doesn’t work. The writ for the by-election dropped on October 14. That means people should have been able to vote as long ago as September 14. That would be four days before Terry French vacated the seat.
But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that while voters in one district have been voting already, the people of CBS haven’t been able to vote in advance as they might have expected. The electoral office has set up a quickie special ballot button on its website, but they were probably not going to start special balloting in CBS until October 18. The result of this unexpected by-election call is that people in CBS who would have looked to use the special ballots just won’t be able to vote. They are effectively disenfranchised, arbitrarily.