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EDITORIAL: Turnout collapses

Green party candidate Hannah Bell, second from left, is congratulated by her daughter, Ava, party leader Peter Bevan-Baker and her mother Judith after winning the District 11, Charlottetown-Parkdale byelection on Monday. (Teresa Wright/The Guardian)
Green party candidate Hannah Bell, second from left, is congratulated by her daughter, Ava, party leader Peter Bevan-Baker and her mother Judith after winning the District 11, Charlottetown-Parkdale byelection on Monday. (Teresa Wright/The Guardian)

After 34 per cent of voters cast ballots in advance polls, just over 60 per cent turnout overall

Several developments stand out following Monday’s byelection in Charlottetown-Parkdale. Political observers, party insiders and many interested Islanders are still buzzing as they continue to analyze the results in District 11 where Green Party candidate Hannah Bell cruised to an upset victory.

For one, the final voter turnout was a disappointment. Following advance polls, almost 1,200 people or almost 34 per cent of eligible voters had cast ballots. Considering the importance of the race, and that four strong candidates were on the ballot, the early turnout wasn’t a big surprise. Party workers did their job to get voters to the advance polls.

It was shocking to see the numbers collapse on election day. In total, just over 61 per cent of voters cast a ballot. It was chilly and breezy but the weather offered no excuses. What happened to the engaged voters in Charlottetown-Parkdale on Monday? The total barely surpassed the 60 per cent turnout in 2016 for the byelection in Summerside-Wilmot.

Hundreds of Liberal voters, along with PC and NDP supporters, stayed home Monday. And of those who showed up, many of them obviously voted Green.

PC Leader James Aylward offered that people wanted change and didn’t want to vote for a “tired” Liberal government. He should be worried why that desire for change didn’t shift to the Tories who had a very credible candidate in Charlottetown city councillor Melissa Hilton.

Liberals offer the excuse that many party supporters were willing to give Ms. Bell a vote and two years in power, to see what she can do. The Liberal party should be worried that it’s now easier to make that shift a permanent one. And should Ms. Bell do well in the legislature and in the district, as we’re sure she will, why would her supporters Monday want to change?

The Liberal machine was out-organized, out-hustled and out-manoeuvred by the Greens who blanketed lawns and yards with their signs over the past three weeks. The Liberals thought they could fast track the byelection, fast track the nomination process and catch other parties unprepared. Voters showed they are tired of this sort of politics.

And why didn’t those people seeking a change move to the NDP, which ran a strong campaign for leader Mike Redmond? It would seem logical to use the opportunity to get a party leader inside the legislature to see what he could do. It was a gamble by Redmond to run in District 11 but one he had to take.

It was also unusual to see that neither the Grits nor Tories felt that the plebiscite on electoral reform played any role in the byelection outcome. It’s time they took the blinders off. They might not want to face the harsh truth but it was the decision to ignore the plebiscite result, which energized a widespread PR coalition into supporting change on Monday.

After seeing party leader Peter Bevan-Baker’s effective attacks in the legislature on the issue, they decided that the Greens were the best option to voice their dissatisfaction.

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