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ALAN HOLMAN: Monday’s deferred vote isn’t like 1966

A voter casts a ballot.
- 123RF Stock Photo

Monday’s deferred election is only the second ever held on P.E.I. The last deferred election was held almost exactly 53 years ago, on July 11, 1966.

When Green candidate Josh Underhay tragically drowned during the April campaign, the election in District 9 was halted. In 1966, a Liberal candidate in 1st Kings died of a heart attack.

In 1966, the May 30th election ended in a tie. Unlike this year’s balloting, which saw the election of the first minority government ever to sit in the legislature.

In 1966, the deferred election had a much greater impact than Monday’s vote will. It determined who formed the government.

In 1966, the Conservatives were led by 78-year-old Walter Shaw, a retired civil servant, and the Liberals by Alexander Campbell, a 32-year-old Summerside lawyer.

Walter Shaw, who was first elected at age 71, was seeking a third term in office, and he had reason to expect he might get it. When he won in 1959, he defeated a Liberal government that had been in power for 24 years and had won six consecutive elections under four different leaders.

The ‘young fella’ running against Premier Shaw was first elected in a byelection just 14 months earlier, and Alex Campbell had only been party leader for six months, hence the premier’s confidence.

When the votes were counted on May 30th, the Conservative government elected 15 MLAs and the Liberals elected 15. In 1966, the legislature had 32 MLAs from 16 districts, two members for each district. This was changed in 1994 when the number of districts was increased to 27, but with only a single member in each district.

In 1966, Liberal candidate Bill Acorn, running in 1st Kings, the Souris area, died of a heart attack five days before election day. He, like Alexander Campbell, had just become a MLA in a byelection a year earlier.

With the tie, the campaign for the deferred election became very heated, some might say, overheated. The Conservative government was more than ‘liberal’ with it’s paving contracts. It was said the Conservative attitude was ‘if it walks, give it a pension, if it doesn’t, pave it.’

One Liberal farmer had a sign in his field, “Please, Mr. Shaw Don’t Pave This, There’s Potatoes Planted Here.”

But the winds of change were blowing. The Liberals won both seats to form the government. The deferred election also marked the beginning of Dan MacDonald’s political career, a career that saw him become a provincial cabinet minister, and then a highly respected federal cabinet minister. He died in office in 1980.

So, this summer’s deferred election campaign has been pretty tame compared to the summer of 1966. If you don’t live in District 9 and haven’t been paying attention, you might not even realize there’s an election on Monday.

However, while it may not have the same impact as 1966, this election is important to each of the parties.

For the Liberals, a win on Monday might be a sign they have stemmed the ebbing tide. They have a solid candidate in Karen Lavers, who has been campaigning since well before the April election. Part of the riding was formerly in Liberal Leader Robert Mitchell’s district and he has been pitching in.

Some Progressive Conservative supporters were relieved when Sarah Stewart-Clark stepped down as a candidate in District 9. They feel they have a better chance of winning with Natalie Jameson. She grew up in the district and has recently returned from Calgary. She has been getting a lot of campaign help from the premier and other members of the cabinet.

John Andrew also grew up in the district and has lived there for a long time. As the Green candidate, he is benefiting from the perception that the Greens are on the rise in P.E.I. He’s an ardent environmentalist. Should he prevail, it would give the Green’s all but two of the Island’s urban seats.

Gordon Gay is running for the NDP, but unlike the other three, he is not considered a contender.

 Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: alanholman19@gmail.com.

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