Elections Saskatchewan says it is ‘constantly reviewing’ provisions of voting act

Logo from Elections Saskatchewan website, www.elections.sk.ca.

Elections Saskatchewan said it will respond to concerns raised by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation but did not find any issue with billboards published during the byelection.

Alec Salloum, Regina Leader-Post

Elections Saskatchewan says it will respond to the letter the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) sent last week about provincial government advertisements during a trio of byelections.

According to Elections Saskatchewan, it received a phone call from an STF representative on July 28 “regarding concerns over recent billboards.”

In an email, Elections Saskatchewan said it “responded at that time that we had not received any evidence that such signs were posted in either of the constituencies where by-elections were occurring during the by-election period — which is consistent with the law.”

The election management body said at the time it emphasized that if the STF had any specific information indicating Section 277 of The Election Act, 1996 had been breached, “Elections SK would assess it and address any violations in a timely manner. No additional information was received by Elections SK from the STF.”

STF sent a letter the day after three byelections wrapped up, expressing concern over a province-wide advertising campaign discussing teacher salaries.

“Elections SK ruled on the matter as soon as it was contacted on July 28 and, further, asked for specific information that would demonstrate a violation. None was received,” said Elections Saskatchewan. A response to the letter will come from Elections Saskatchewan, according to an email.

At issue is Section 277(3) of the Act, which states “During a by-election in a constituency, no government ministry shall publish in any manner in the constituency any information with respect to the activities of the ministry.”

Elections Saskatchewan said from that initial call on July 28 it did not see anything that specifically violated that section, since none of the material was published within the three constituencies where byelections were occurring.

In its letter, the STF said it felt the province was “stretching those guidelines” given the proliferation of social media.

The question of constituencies came up in the letter; “while it’s unreasonable to expect that an Act promulgated in 1996 could anticipate the ubiquity of social media, perhaps it behooves someone in your position to be advocating aggressively in the media for more up-to-date and rigorous legislation,” it stated.

In response, Elections Saskatchewan said while “the use of social media introduces complexity to the regulation of advertising” during a byelection period, no issues were identified. It said it would have been “inappropriate” for the chief electoral officer, Michael Boda, to have changed rules mid-byelection.

However, Elections Saskatchewan said there could be future changes, which will ultimately be the decision of legislators after the next general election.

In its email correspondence, Elections Saskatchewan said it is “constantly reviewing the provisions of the Act in preparation for making recommendations in the Chief Electoral Officer’s report following each general election. Section 277 is one of those provisions.”