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ALAN HOLMAN: Political signs don’t indicate support

Mike Redmond (NDP), Hannah Bell (Green), Melissa Hilton (PC) and Bob Doiron (Liberal) gather together after taking part in a forum hosted by Young Voters of P.E.I. for the upcoming byelection for District 11 on Nov. 27.
Mike Redmond (NDP), Hannah Bell (Green), Melissa Hilton (PC) and Bob Doiron (Liberal) gather together after taking part in a forum hosted by Young Voters of P.E.I. for the upcoming byelection for District 11 on Nov. 27.

Byelections often go against the government and District 11 is likely the Tories to lose.

By the time many of you read this column, voting will be underway in the byelection to determine who’ll replace Doug Currie, who quit as education minister and as the MLA for District 11. Today is the first of three advance polls.

The campaign is just barely three weeks old and for those who mark their ballots today, it’s all over but the counting . . . and for that they’ll have to wait another nine days.

For those still trying to make up their minds on who to support, they have three more chances. They can cast a ballot in an advance poll on Monday, or on Friday. Or, they can wait until a week Monday and vote on election day, November 27.

There are over 3,300 eligible voters in the riding. In the 2015 provincial election, 80 per cent of them cast a ballot. Usually byelections do not engender the same level of interest as general elections do, so it is very doubtful there will be anything like an 80 per cent turnout.

There is not a lot on the line in a byelection. It isn’t going to determine the rise or fall of a government. Too often, for a variety of reasons, people who fully intend to vote, just don’t. The winner in District 11 could well be the party that has best identified its supporters and gets them to the polls.

While all the opposition parties say the government’s handling of electoral reform has come up at the door, there isn’t any all-consuming issue, something that everyone in District 11 is fixated on.

When pressed on what the issues are, as they were at an all-candidates forum on Thursday evening, the candidates tend to fall back on the old political shibboleths of health care, low-cost housing, poverty and employment opportunities. Issues that are large, complex and beyond the easy, simplistic solutions offered while trolling for votes.

And most voters know this. So when they listen to the candidates and what they offer up as solutions to these mega problems, the audience isn’t so much listening to the substance of their answers, but more to the manner and the sincerity the candidates display when they answer.

In some provinces, political signs are not allowed on government property, only on private property. In these places, the number of signs is one indication of a party’s popularity. Reading the political entrails in this byelection isn’t easy, there isn’t much excitement and there have been few meetings or debates. And in Charlottetown where signs are allowed on public property, the number of signs isn’t an indicator of support.

All parties report that they are being well received at the door. But, Islanders tend to be polite and very few will tell a candidate to their face they aren’t supporting them. However, experienced campaigners say that if someone says, “I won’t do you any harm,” or “good luck, anyway”, that’s a pretty clear indication they’re voting for someone else.

Byelections often go against the government and District 11 is likely the Tories to lose. Both the NDP and the Greens claim they have momentum, and lots of volunteers. However, NDP leader Mike Redmond is a known commodity and hasn’t done well in the past. Whereas the Green candidate, Hannah Bell, is a fresh face. She presents well in person, on the podium and in the media.

The Green Party campaign office was all a buzz earlier this week when two campaigners returned from their rounds and reported they had called at the home of Doug Currie who told them he would be voting Green in this election.

If the Greens are going to score an upset on Nov. 27, they’ll need more Liberals than Doug Currie voting for them; they’ll need Tories, Dippers and independents. A third party win is still a long shot on P.E.I.

- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: acholman@pei.eastlink.ca

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