How do you campaign during a pandemic? New Brunswick politicians are finding out the hard way

Governments across Canada are keeping a close eye on New Brunswick, as the province’s election campaign has crossed the halfway mark.

It’s the first province to run an election during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and that means politicians across the country are keen to see how candidates campaign in a world that demands individuals stay away from one another.

New Brunswickers will head to the polls on Sept. 14, and in an election without precedent in Canada, it has forced parties to make tough decisions about how to campaign.

Many candidates from the province’s official Opposition are still going door to door.

That includes Liberal candidate Steven Burns, who is running in the riding of Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton.

“I sanitize my hands, go to the door, I will use my pen to hit the doorbell, then I back up 10 feet,” Burns told Global News.

“If someone comes to the door, I just ask them first of all if they’re OK with me being here and having a conversation.”

The governing PC party, in contrast, is staying away from face-to-face contact.

Tory Leader Blaine Higgs hopes that high approval ratings, attributed to the stifling of COVID-19 in the province, will turn his government’s thin majority at the dissolution of the legislature into a strong majority.

Candidates for the PCs are relying on phone calls and posts on social media to connect with voters.

Mary Wilson, the PC incumbent in Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton, believes residents and potential voters are appreciative of politicians staying away.

“We’re not even putting brochures in mailboxes. My brochures are gonna be arriving in the mail this week. So, we’re being very cautious. You can’t be too careful,” Wilson said.

As a first-time politician, Burns says traditional campaigning and the benefit of face-to-face interaction, albeit distanced, gives him an advantage.

“I have only had a couple of people out of those thousand that had any concern, and once I explain to them how it works, they were more than fine to talk to me,” he said.

For Burns, awkward conversations are nothing new.

His wife, Sara, a Fredericton police officer, was one of four people killed by a gunman in 2018. The incident left him as a single parent to three boys.

Burns is campaigning on a call for better mental health services for youth.

“And that obviously stems from some of the things that I went through with my kids and the death of my wife,” he said.

Wilson says the PCs have already made mental health a priority.

“Number one announcement, so top priority. We have to agree completely,” she said.

But the two candidates disagree on how to deliver their messages in a campaign unlike any other.

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