In defending his decision to drop the writ in January, Liberal Leader Andrew Furey has repeatedly referred to the fact that the current Elections Act requires a premier who has ascended to the role by a leadership vote to call an election within one year.
“There had to be an election in 2021. That’s the law. It’s not my law, it is the law,” he told reporters Tuesday when questioned about his choice. “And I said I would follow the law, which we should follow.”
But the law he’s referring to has been changed before — in 2015.
That’s the year then-premier Paul Davis tabled legislation in the House of Assembly to change the number of seats in the province from 48 to 40. In the same bill, he added a clause that allowed him to call an election in November in order to avoid clashing with a federal election in October.
Under the old rules, the provincial election would have had to have been in September.
“The reality is all he had to do was go into the House of Assembly … and do the exact same thing Paul Davis did in 2015,” independent MHA Paul Lane told The Telegram Tuesday after hearing Furey’s repeated references to the law.
“With a pandemic, that would be a good reason to do it.”
When Premier Furey says he had no choice but to call a Covid Election, he is not being truthful. He had options. He...Posted by Paul Lane on Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Lane said this province is the only province to legislate the one-year window for premiers who ascend to the role without a mandate.
The amendment was brought in by former Tory premier Danny Williams.
Lane said he’s convinced other parties would have supported changing the rules.
“He could easily go in, open the House, fix the date to 2022 when everybody is vaccinated and COVID-19 is hopefully behind us, and I can give it to you that every party in the House would have supported it.”
No crystal ball
Furey, meanwhile, insisted there was no way of predicting when or if a COVID-19 outbreak might occur.
A tally of 30 new cases in the St. John’s area Tuesday has spurred a temporary shutdown of many activities and bans on large gatherings for the region.
“Some of the probabilistic modelling that we saw, saw spikes actually later in the year than where we are right now,” Furey said.
He said the call was made based on recommendations provided by Chief Electoral Officer Bruce Chaulk.
“When we evaluated the decision to have an election, the numbers were very low, but we knew we were in a COVID-19 scenario. We were informed by his office that he was ready for a COVID-19 election, and there had to be an election in 2021. He knew that,” Furey said. “He knew that the COVID wasn’t going away in 2021, so presumably he has taken the utmost measures to ensure that we can navigate this, which is albeit a scary … but predictable, to a certain degree, scenario.”
“No one has a crystal ball and is clairvoyant when it comes to COVID-19, and you make the decisions with the evidence available to you at the time.” — Andrew Furey
Furey dismissed suggestions a summer election would have been safer, even though more vaccine would have been administered, children would be out of school and people would be indoors less.
“With respect to the even distribution and the supply chain of the vaccine, it’s not as robust as we would have thought, and predictability about who and when people would get vaccinated is getting more certain, but isn’t certain,” he said.
“No one has a crystal ball and is clairvoyant when it comes to COVID-19, and you make the decisions with the evidence available to you at the time.”
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health for The Telegram.