CUT: Christine Blair is one of three local women being sworn in as returning officers during a special ceremony at Province House in Halifax today. Blair has been a returning officer since 1998. File photo
TRURO – Wednesday is a special day for Christine Blair.
The Bible Hill woman and longtime county councilor will be sworn in as a provincial returning officer for Truro-Bible Hill during a special ceremony at Province House in Halifax.
Two other local women, Sharon O’Leary and Lorraine Dawson, will also be sworn in for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley and Colchester North, respectively.
“I first started as a returning officer in 1998 … in February,” said Blair, who recalls getting a phone call when the election was called.
“I scrambled to find an office and to find the staff. The writ came down on Saturday and I had to be open that following Monday.”
Blair was able to furnish an office by renting furniture from a local businessman.
“But I had no training, no information and no files,” she said. “The only thing they gave me was a copy of the Elections Act.”
When she was appointed for a second time, Blair found out by a letter in the mail.
Today will be the first time she’s attended a ceremony, one which includes Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant who will be on hand for the swearing-in.
In addition, Blair has been identified as one the returning officers who will receive special recognition for her work from Chief Electoral Officer Richard Temporale.
When the returning officer’s position became available in 1997, Blair’s interest was instantaneous.
“My position with the government had just ended that July,” she recalled. “It was very much a fulltime career and I was having a difficult time not doing something.”
The idea of not having a political position appealed to Blair so she applied for the job.
“I really do enjoy it. You get hooked on it,” she said. “You’re very involved in the (election) process and I like working with people.”
When she started, Blair had no street keys.
“I drove the streets on the entire district, up one side and down the other, writing down the numbers of the houses,” she said.
Since then, she’s been able to get civic maps for Truro and various places in Colchester County, such as Bible Hill, but still had to put her own addresses on them.
“Now it’s all computerized, but it wasn’t then,” she said.
Other notable changes in the past 15 years involve information cards (returning officers used to peel and stick address labels on each one compared to today when they’re all sent out from the main office in Halifax), the number of days between the writ being dropped and when the polls close (36 days down to 31) and target rather than full enumeration of the voter’s list.
“There are also a lot of changes in the polls,” said Blair. “The goal is to have people vote and we allow them the opportunity to vote in as many ways as possible.”
“Before, people voted at the polls, through special polls and also advanced polls. We no longer have special polls, but we also have polls in the returning officer’s office. People can vote for about 29 of those 31 days now.”
Dawson has been a returning officer since the 1980s, while O’Leary is new to the fold.
“Sharon’s only had a bit of the training so far, but she’ll start training this weekend,” said Blair who is a trainer.