The following is an editorial written by Dr. Michael Boda, Chief Electoral Officer for Saskatchewan. It appeared on CBC Saskatchewan and the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix on September 18, 2020.
It’s Democracy Week in Canada and a perfect opportunity to think not only about the model for democracy that Saskatchewan has offered to the world, but how the people of Saskatchewan can help maintain our democratic traditions at a uniquely challenging time in our history.
Before returning to the province in 2012, I had worked on governance and election projects in both developed and established democracies around the world—from Pakistan to Jordan, from Scotland to the United States. Over the previous two decades, my primary goal had been to assist other countries in reinforcing, enriching and tangibly instituting principals that would allow citizens to select their leaders through democratic processes.
I saw evidence of both genuine progress and catastrophic failure, often in the same jurisdiction. But what I was most proud of was the fact that the country and province where I was born consistently provided one of the most vibrant and robust democratic examples I could offer to others.
Saskatchewan’s democracy has been a remarkable model for the rest of the world to consider. Since its founding in 1905, we have had 28 general elections, some held in the most difficult of times. In 1917 and 1944, for example, Saskatchewan held its elections despite the sacrifices required by the two world wars. And in 1934, the province even held an election in the midst of the suffering of the Great Depression. Time and again, the people of Saskatchewan have exhibited an unusually strong commitment to governing themselves democratically. Our province is an excellent example for others that democracy works.
During each provincial election, thousands of people across the province have been willing to serve their local communities as election officials so that their friends and neighbours can participate in selecting our leaders, freely and fairly. They have set aside their political views in order to embrace the values to which Elections Saskatchewan adheres: impartiality, professionalism, and service to others. This ongoing success is a testament to the strength of civil society in Saskatchewan and the people’s commitment to democracy.
As the province’s non-partisan election management body, Elections Saskatchewan is preparing for the largest event in our history—a general election October, involving six registered political parties and likely more than 250 candidates, where 815,000 electors will be asked to select Members of the Legislative Assembly for 61 constituencies. Implementing this process is no small feat. We anticipate that as many as 17,000 election officials will be needed at more than 2,000 polling locations in communities from Uranium City to Coronach, from Lloydminster to Creighton.
Canada’s Constitution requires elections every five years to regenerate our provincial government, but Coronavirus has presented unique challenges to meeting this objective. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year, I have worked closely with the province’s Chief Medical Health Officer to redesign our polling locations. As a result, polls will be as safe for voters and for election officials this coming October as a trip to your local grocery store. Voters and workers alike will be provided with PPE, physical distancing and new traffic patterns will be instituted, and clear protocols for safety and cleaning will be put in place.
I’ve heard recently from a number of people in Saskatchewan who have looked forward to giving back to their communities by acting as elections officials over the years but feel they can’t participate in 2020 due to health concerns related to COVID-19. As Chief Electoral Officer, I fully understand this—participating as an election worker has always been a choice in this provinceand that will never change. But my hope is that many of our residents who don’t see themselves in the same category will, perhaps for the first time, be motivated to step in at a time when Saskatchewan’s democracy is under unique pressure to deliver on our constitutional democratic promise.
We’re in the midst of one of the most challenging times in the history of Saskatchewan. Our province needs your help. Will you take part as an election official for Saskatchewan’s 29th provincial election this October? You will be paid for your efforts, but you’ll also be giving back to a democracy that is known around the globe for its success.
I hope that you’ll go to our website today at elections.sk.ca and express your interest in giving a day for Saskatchewan’s democracy—your democracy.
Dr. Michael Boda has been Chief Electoral Officer of Saskatchewan since 2012. He oversees and regulates provincial elections.