Ontario election date changed due to holiday
TORONTO - The first fixed election date in Ontario history wasn't so fixed after all.
The Liberal government announced Wednesday that the provincial election scheduled for Oct. 4 this year will be moved to Oct. 10 because of a conflict with a Jewish holiday.
Chief election officer John Hollins advised the government that Oct. 4, 2007, is the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, during which members of the Orthodox Jewish community would not be able to vote.
The Canadian Jewish Congress applauded the government's decision to change the date, which it said would allow Jews who observe the holiday to not only vote when everyone else does, but also work for candidates or as returning officers.
"This is something that all Ontarians should take pride in, and it should give comfort to Ontarians," said Steven Shulman, regional director and general counsel for the CJC.
"There's a clear statement being made by the government to accommodate this sort of conflict, and next time it may be another community that's in conflict."
But Ontario's opposition parties said the Liberal government made a huge mistake when it set Oct. 4 as the election date without ensuring there were no religious or cultural conflicts.
"The selection of the Oct. 4 date by the McGuinty government was embarrassing for them," said NDP Leader Howard Hampton.
Conservative critic Tim Hudak also pounced on the Liberals.
"We're happy the date has been moved," Hudak said. "But my goodness, you think they would have thought of this two years ago when they set the election date."
The Liberals changed Ontario's Election Act in 2005 to set the first Thursday in October every four years as the election date, but any of the subsequent seven days can be named as an alternative polling day if the chief election officer decides the scheduled date is unsuitable.
Democratic Renewal Minister Marie Bountrogianni dismissed the opposition claims that the government should be embarrassed about the date change, and said the legislation was designed to handle such conflicts.
"This is precisely why we've built a seven-day buffer into the legislation," Bountrogianni said.
"It is a multicultural society and there is a possibility that any election date would be an obstacle for a particular group."
Shulman agreed that the legislation to accommodate scheduling conflicts worked just as it was intended to, and could help other groups in the future.
"That may not happen for several election dates down the road, but at least there's confidence now that this flexibility that's built into the legislation will be used when it's appropriate," he said.
"That's exactly what happened here."
Earlier in the week, Bountrogianni said she would not change the election date because of the Jewish holiday, but said Wednesday the date was changed after a recommendation from the chief election officer.
"We think an officer of the legislature should make the recommendation, and that way it's much more objective and we avoid inadvertently insulting any group," she said.