Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, New Brunswick political parties have to change the way they select candidates.
In a contested nomination, party candidates typically look to fill a room with their supporters to lead the race when the votes are counted.
With mass gatherings limited by public health officials, this won’t be possible in the upcoming election.
The Progressive Conservatives have 15 nomination conventions coming up over the next several weeks, including in the ridings of a handful of cabinet ministers and Premier Blaine Higgs. All 15 conventions are planned to take place in person.
According to the PCNB executive director Andrea Johnson, precautions are being taken to ensure they can be done safely, including offering an option for party members to join via ZOOM.
“We are holding them in large enough locations to ensure physical distancing. We will have pre-registration to control the attendance,” Johnson said.
“Masks will be provided as well, along with hand sanitizer. Arrows on the floor to control traffic, seating that will allow distancing. Very similar to how our churches and grocery stores are managing it currently,” she said.
The contests scheduled to date are all uncontested, meaning there are no other candidates seeking the nomination. Dealing with multiple candidates will require a different process, according to Johnson.
“For contested nominations we will put a heavy focus on ZOOM,” she said.
“If in-person, (we) have talked about filing people in, vote and file them out to their cars, and operate similar to a drive-in model. We’ve also not ruled out outdoor events.”
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The Liberals have decided to go entirely virtual for their nomination conventions.
One district’s decision is already complete, with Chris Duffie being acclaimed as the candidate in Fredericton-Hanwell last week.
For contested nominations, the party will rely on a hybrid system with some of it taking place virtually and other parts in-person.
“The candidate speeches will be made available online the day prior to the vote. On the day of the nomination, members will go to a physical location to register and then immediately cast their ballot,” said Liberal campaign co-chair Robert McKee.
“Registration and voting would be spread over the course of a few hours. As soon as a member has voted they would leave the venue. This minimizes the number of people at the venue at the same time,” McKee said.
The results would then be announced virtually once they have been tallied.
Nomination conventions are typically a way to bring together partisans in a given riding, to drum up excitement for the party and identify potential campaign volunteers.
“Candidates for the nomination, and then to be the MLA for that riding, those in-person contacts can be so important,” said UNB Saint John political scientist J.P. Lewis.
“Even just for the administration of the campaign itself, if you have a really good turnout at your nomination meeting, maybe those people can turn into volunteers.”
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Although nomination conventions look different this year, Lewis said they could still provide some clues as to the feelings of the electorate on a possible fall snap election.
“Seeing how people how would have normally been very engaged in these activities, seeing at what level they’re engaged could be quite a tell in terms of what we might expect if an election were called in early August,” Lewis said.
“If we go through this brief wave of nomination contests and the anecdotes from them is that it appeared to be business as usual then that speaks a lot to the mystery of whether or not New Brunswickers would want and welcome a general election,” he said.
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