The municipal elections Monday produced some surprise winners, the re-election of many council veterans and a disappointment or two.
In the Island’s two cities, familiar faces returned from political exile to sit in the mayor’s chair. Philip Brown saw persistence pay off with a closely-fought victory for mayor of Charlottetown. After unsuccessful attempts to unseat Clifford Lee in 2010 and 2014, Mr. Brown was third time lucky Monday night. The recognition factor and relentless campaigning since late May helped propel the former city councillor to victory.
As expected, his toughest opposition came from sister-in-law Kim Devine. The two were in a tight race from the opening results, with Mr. Brown clinging to a narrow lead most of the night, until the advance polls finally reported, providing him with a more comfortable 929 -vote majority. Mr. Brown said he would start to work immediately on his key campaign issue of affordable housing.
While there is a new mayor, eight of the 10 council members are returning. Alana Jankov won in Ward 1 where incumbent Eddie Rice retired; and Ward 9 was another open seat where Julie McCabe became the second woman to win a spot on council. That ward opened up when Melissa Hilton opted to run in her home Ward 6 but she lost by 28 votes to Bob Doiron in a close, three-way battle with David MacDonald. Hilton led most the night until the final polls came in.
Summerside decided to forgive Basil Stewart and welcomed him back as mayor with a narrow victory over Nancy Beth Guptill. It was a surprise result after many people thought Mr. Stewart’s decisive loss four years ago to Bill Martin spelled the end of his 29-year political career as mayor. A costly, failed concert and nagging police issues had ensnared Mr. Stewart but he shook off those missteps to reclaim victory in a race where Ms. Guptill led much of the way.
Perhaps the biggest surprise Monday came in Three Rivers where social worker Eddie MacAulay cruised to victory in the first election for the newly-amalgamated community. The former Cardigan council member used an impressive margin in the advance poll and won decisively in six of the seven original communities that formed Three Rivers. He even won one of the three Montague polls and was very close in the other two to easily turn aside former Montague MLA Jim Bagnall and veteran 26-year-mayor Richard Collins to win by some 800 votes.
Mr. MacAulay faces some daunting challenges – first, where to establish the town hall – and then to bring seven, long-time independent communities together as one unit.
Veteran council member Steve Ogden used his experience to win the trust of voters and replace David Dunphy as the new mayor in Stratford. His closest challenge came from youthful Jody Jackson who lost by just over 400 votes. Mr. Ogden said his priority is get a promised new junior-senior high school built right away in the province’s fastest-growing community.
As expected, Minerva McCourt cruised to victory in Cornwall, winning by 900 votes and silencing critics who questioned her support for the controversial and costly major highway bypass to the north of the town.
One of the biggest disappointments at the end of the day were the final vote numbers. Very strong advance polls indicated a record voter turnout but that fizzled on election day to keep the final number to 58 per cent in Charlottetown, the same as 2014. In the capital, 14,563 cast ballots, approximately 1,000 more than four years ago but the city’s population also increased so it appeared that interested citizens voted early and the hoped-for turnout from young and new voters failed to materialize.
In Summerside, the turnout dropped from 65 per cent in 2014 to 58.58 per cent Monday while the numbers this week were even worse in Cornwall (49.3 per cent) and Stratford (50.44 per cent).
Another issue was the lengthy delay in counting advance polls, especially in Charlottetown where over 6,000 ballots were cast before Monday. Most results across the province were known by 10 p.m. but not in the capital where it was midnight before the final poll reported. The late Charlottetown polls saw changes in several wards and made a close race for mayor an easier win for Mr. Brown.
It was a good test for new staff members running Elections P.E.I., who must move right into pre-provincial election and referendum mode. Monday’s problems show they have some areas and issues to work on.