Q58. What is a by-election? How is the date selected?

A by-election is a special election that fills a vacant seat


A58. A by-election is any election of an MLA that is held at a time other than a general election.

A by-election is held whenever a seat is vacant because of the death or resignation of an MLA, or if an election is voided by a court due to irregularities.

As with the timing of a general election, the decision when to call a by-election rests with the premier. The House of Assembly Act (the law that governs the operations of the legislature) says, in section 8, subsection 1, that a by-election must be called within six months after the vacancy occurs. The election date must be no more than 46 days after the election is called. Within those rules, the timing of a by-election is up to the premier.

Let’s look at an example. The MLA for Cumberland South, Jamie Baillie, resigned his seat on January 24, 2018. That is when the vacancy occurred. Premier Stephen McNeil has six months—that is, until July 24, 2018—to call the election, and voting day must be no more than 46 days after the election is called. The premier could call the election sooner than July 24, 2018, but he doesn’t have to.

There is one other rule. Under Canada’s Constitution, there must be a general election at least every five years. The House of Assembly Act says that if a vacancy occurs within twelve months of the five-year deadline, there does not need to be a by-election.

Q57. If a budget is introduced, can the government call an election before the budget vote?

An election can be called before a budget is passed

A57. The answer is yes—there can be an election before a budget vote. It is up to the premier to decide when to call an election.

In the spring of 2017, there was much speculation about whether the McNeil government would call an election shortly after introducing a budget on Thursday, April 27th. In fact, a general election was called three days after the budget was introduced. Election day was May 30, 2017.

In 2006, the Progressive Conservative government of Rodney MacDonald introduced a budget and then called an election. In 2009, the MacDonald government was defeated on a confidence vote before the budget could be put to a vote.

If there is a change of government before a budget is approved, the new government will typically wait until the fall sitting of the legislature to introduce a budget. The machinery of government can continue to operate for quite a long time without an approved budget.


Q12. When is the next election?

It’s up to the premier, but can’t be later than May 2022

A12. The premier is the one who calls an election, so only he knows. The next election can’t be later than May 2022. It will likely be held sometime in 2021.

The last Nova Scotia provincial election was in May 2017. Stephen McNeil led the Liberals to a second majority government, so he continues as premier.

According to Canada’s constitution, there can be no more than five years between elections. Therefore the next election must be held no later than May 2022.

Some provinces have legislation that fixes the exact date of the next election. Nova Scotia does not have a fixed-date election law.

The decision to call an election is entirely up to the premier.  Sometimes the premier can be forced to call an election by losing a vote of confidence.  Stephen McNeil leads a majority government, so it is inconceivable that he would lose a vote of confidence.

To call an election, the premier simply has to visit the lieutenant governor, and say “Please call an election.” The lieutenant governor will (except in highly unusual circumstances that don’t apply here) always do what the premier advises him to do.

It is common practice for the premier of a majority government to call an election in the fourth year. In Nova Scotia, that would be 2021. That is the most likely time of the next election, but it could be any month in 2021.

Premier John Buchanan twice called an election after only three years, even though he had a majority government—once in 1981, and again in 1984. He rattled everybody because it was so unusual.

Sometimes a premier does not call an election until the government’s fifth year, but that is usually because he’s pretty sure his party will lose the election. That happened in Nova Scotia in 1993 (previous election 1988) and in 1998 (previous election 1993).