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Advance Polls for Canadian Election Open on Good Friday: Thankfully not Easter Sunday…this time

Stuff happens, but sometimes it’s handy to have a calendar.

On the morning of Saturday, March 26, MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South) was being interviewed prior to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (MP, Calgary Southwest) meeting with Governor General David Johnston. The government had been defeated in the House of Commons the afternoon before and one of the TV networks I was flipping between was filling some time waiting for the announcement from the steps of Rideau Hall (the Governor General’s residence). Cut to Mr. McGuinty on the steps of Parliament Hill as he realizes, and states to the camera, that this might not be the best time for an election because you can’t put lawn signs up in the frozen ground.

The leaders of the opposition parties – members of their parties or staff – might have consulted a calendar, examined Wiarton Willie’s prediction, Canadian weather patterns, etc. and come to this realization much sooner.  One can reasonably anticipate a thaw in the most populous portions of Canada by May 2, but another week would have made a substantial difference.

About an hour after Mr. McGuinty’s comments, the Prime Minister emerged from his meeting with the Governor General and announced that the nation was headed into a federal election to be held on Monday, May 2.

Hmm, checking the Canada Elections Act reveals section 171 which notes in sub-section 2:

An advance poll shall only be open between the hours of noon and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Monday, the 10th, 9th, and 7th days, respectively, before polling day.

I’m not casting blame on anyone. All the party leaders had a pretty good idea of the date for Election Day before the fateful vote was cast in the House of Commons on March 25. But, the advance polling days include Good Friday and Easter Monday. Thankfully, they do not include Easter Sunday.

Easter Monday doesn’t bother me too much, although it will trouble some, but the idea of having election polling on Good Friday, one of the holiest and most significant celebrations on the Christian calendar, really … what’s the word … irks me.

I know Easter is late this year, but again, consulting a calendar – just the basic wall, wallet or desk calendar that lists American and Canadian holidays – would have suggested that waiting a week would have avoided this situation.

Religious celebrations are significant to those who celebrate them. Holy days are not holi-days but days of reverence that are deserving of respect, including by politicians. The respect due is not because there is an expectation that the politicians will observe the religious celebration but because they are important days set aside for special observance by Canadians – the people who elect our politicians.

I know the advance polls fall on regular days of religious observance for different faith communities by virtue of landing on a Friday or Saturday in any event. Advance polling stations are, by law, permitted to be combined in one location so that frequently the number of advance polling locations is 20% or less of the number of Election Day polling stations.

I also know that the last two sessions of Parliament have seen introduction of legislation that would have added two Sundays to the advance polls: Sunday, the 8th day before Election Day, as a noon to 8 p.m. poll like its surrounding days in only a handful of locations in each riding; and, Sunday, the 1st day immediately preceding Election Day, as a full blown, every poll open voting day. Again, consulting a calendar – and considering Canadians (i.e. voters) worship activities – might be of benefit.

The 8th day polling could be perceived as similar treatment to other faith communities. That might be considered as fair. But the 1st day would be well treated with a little more respect – reverence, we might say – in recognition of it not being Election Day or just another day but the day on which the vast majority of Canadians engage in worship services. The proposal would treat the 1st day before Election Day in a manner different from the experience of any other faith community, and that would be more than irksome. In fact, lack of consultation with a calendar might be forgiven in regard to frozen earth and a failure to count the days backwards from Election Day, but an amendment to the Canada Elections Act? That would be intentional.

Stuff happens. Regrettably, this year it results in voting on Good Friday. Sometimes, in addition to consulting a calendar, it’s handy to consider the electorate.  I’m glad we’re not voting on Sunday.

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