Premier Iain Rankin, left, and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston bump elbows at a Halifax Chamber of Commerce pre-election event in Halifax on Aug. 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Nova Scotians head to the polls after midsummer election campaign amid COVID pandemic

HALIFAX — Nova Scotians headed to the polls Tuesday to choose their next provincial government, following a midsummer election campaign held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The election has seen a surge in early voting, with final statistics from Elections Nova Scotia indicating a total of 176,793 early votes were cast before Tuesday. During early voting in the 2017 provincial general election, a total of 118,623 early votes had been cast.

Voting was delayed Tuesday morning at six polling stations in Halifax, Bedford, Nappan and Antigonish and as a result, polls will close at those locations at 8:30 p.m., the province’s elections authority said in a news release. All other polling stations opened on time at 8 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m.

The affected polling stations included the Parkland Estates Retirement Residence and Dalhousie Student Union Building in Halifax, as well as the Nappan United Church, the Northwood Place long-term care facility in Bedford and the Club 60 seniors centre in Antigonish.

COVID-19 protocols were put in place at all polling stations and voters were required to wear masks inside and abide by physical distancing protocols, the elections agency said in a separate news release Tuesday. People were asked to sanitize their hands at entrances and exits, and they were required to bring their own pen for completing paperwork. Poll workers were asked to provided single-use pencils to voters for ballot marking.

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin called the election on July 17, less than five months after he was sworn in as premier to replace Stephen McNeil. Rankin, 38, is hoping to secure a third consecutive term for the Liberal party and campaigned on post-pandemic optimism while preaching fiscal conservatism.

The Progressive Conservatives, led by chartered accountant Tim Houston, tried to set themselves apart by unveiling a big-spending platform focused on improving the health-care system. The New Democrats, led by United Church minister Gary Burrill, campaigned on a traditionally progressive platform that called for a $15 minimum wage, 10 paid sick days for all workers and rent control.

Houston cast his ballot Tuesday in Little Harbour, N.S., while Rankin and Burrill voted during the advance polls.

A total of 28 seats are needed to secure a majority in the province’s newly expanded 55-seat legislature. At dissolution, the Liberals held 24 of 51 seats, followed by the Progressive Conservatives with 17. The New Democrats had five seats, and there were three Independents and two vacancies.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2021.

The Canadian Press