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WAYNE YOUNG: Byelection drama? Maybe.

Alex Campbell, right, campaigns in rural P.E.I. during the early days of his successful career as premier.
(File Photo)
Alex Campbell, right, campaigns in rural P.E.I. during the early days of his successful career as premier.(File Photo) - Bill McGuire

But for high stakes and intensity, the pivotal 1966 vote in First Kings set the bar

Doug Currie’s surprise resignation triggered a Nov. 27 byelection in Charlottetown-Parkdale, a seat that each of the four political parties covets.

For the governing Liberals, retaining the seat that Currie held for 11 years would be interpreted as a mid-term vote of confidence, while a Tory win would put some much-needed wind into the sails of its newly minted leader, James Aylward.

The Greens would like to use the byelection to give its first-ever MLA, leader Peter Bevan-Baker, a seatmate in the legislature. The NDP has nominated leader Mike Redmond and he’ll be campaigning hard to pull off an upset.

As leaders, candidates and volunteers blitz the district there’ll be plenty of drama, although I don’t believe erecting campaign signs for Tory candidate Melissa Hilton before she was nominated really qualifies.

However, her battle against Liberal candidate and fellow city councillor Bob Doiron may produce some drama.

But regardless of who wins, the Wade MacLauchlan Liberal government will still be in power the day after the byelection.

Not so in 1966 when voters in the old district of First Kings went to the polls in what proved to be a byelection for the ages.

In those days, each of 16 districts elected two MLAs. When one of the candidates in First Kings died during the general election campaign, the vote in that riding was deferred until after the election. When the last vote was counted on election night it was a dead heat – 15 Liberals elected, 15 PCs elected.

So 2,500 eligible voters in the Kings County district would decide if Walter Shaw’s Tories would be returned to office or if they would be turfed out by the upstart Liberals led by Alex Campbell, a young lawyer from Summerside.

It was the early days of CBC television and this crucial vote was clearly deemed important enough to dispatch a newsman and film crew from the national office to Souris on election day.

A fascinating newscast archived on the CBC website features an unlikely exchange on a Souris sidewalk as newsman Kingsley Brown was interviewing Campbell. Shaw, driving down Main Street, saw the pair and yelled out his window to the Liberal leader.

“You’re wanted back in Summerside.”

Campbell shot back.

“You’re wanted on the phone up the street.”

Shaw stopped his car in the street and Brown, with Campbell in close pursuit, leaned close to the open window.

“Are you going to have a victory party tonight or a wake?”

Shaw assured him it would be a party.

Campbell wasn’t convinced.

“Are you as confident as we are, sir?” he asked.

Shaw leaned towards him and smiled.

“I’m at the apex of confidence.”

Then he continued down the street, cameras still rolling.

But it was Campbell who celebrated later that night and he used the pivotal byelection win to launch a record-setting 12-year run in office. He still holds the distinction of being the province’s longest serving premier.

Fast forward to today and for the next three weeks, candidates will be crisscrossing the Charlottetown-Parkdale district, once again knocking on doors and soliciting votes.

Ask of the leaders and they’ll likely tell you they’re “at the apex of confidence.”

But, as was the case in 1966, there’ll only be one victory party. Stay tuned.

- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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