'A chance to be Frenchmen': St-Pierre and Miquelon 1st to vote in France election

When you mention the French election to people in St-Pierre and Miquelon, a small territory off the coast of Newfoundland, many shake their heads in dismay.

Far from France, election still top of mind for small territory off coast of Newfoundland

Campaign signs for the two presidential candidates, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, hang on the streets of St-Pierre. (Laura Howells/CBC)

When you mention the French election to people in St-Pierre and Miquelon, many shake their heads in dismay.

Far from France, citizens of this tiny archipelago off the coast of Newfoundland have already voted in the French election — a day before the rest of the country.

Although the territory and its approximately 6,000 French citizens are around 4,000 kilometres from mainland France, the presidential election is still top of mind for many residents. But few people here expressed excitement about their choice between pro-European Union centrist Emmanuel Macron and the anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front candidate Marine Le Pen.

"We're not voting for Macron, we're voting against Le Pen," said Sandrine Girardin, out for a walk with her mother and young son.

Just after 8 a.m. on Saturday, people in St-Pierre cast some of the first ballots in the French presidential election. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Voting Macron to snub Le Pen

Girardin, 36, doesn't like Macron — she says he'll do nothing for France — but she's voting for him anyway. It's a much better alternative to her than Le Pen's views.

Many in St-Pierre and Miquelon share Girardin's feelings. In the first round of voting, the colony favoured the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with 35 per cent of people voting for him. Le Pen and Macron each received around 18 per cent of the vote.

Sandrine Girardin takes a walk with her young son. She grew up in St-Pierre, and says it's the perfect place to raise children. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Now in the second round, many people CBC News spoke to in the territory said they're voting for Macron just to keep Le Pen out of power.

Although the territory is very much part of France, Girardin said she feels like it's distanced from some of the main election issues: it's safe, isolated, quiet and most people are making good money.

'We're very protected'

"We don't have problems of immigration or terrorism or no crimes, nothing. We're very protected," she said, adding that it's a wonderful place to raise children.

It's a quiet, colourful place and, while only a short ferry ride from Canada, it feels distinctly European. People use euros, they speak Parisian French and everything shuts down at noon for lunch. The French government gives it millions in subsidies, and public wages are significantly higher than in mainland France.​

Some voters, like 19-year-old Alexis Gautier, are choosing to "vote blanc" — spoil their ballots to show they don't approve of either candidate.

Alexis Gatier is choosing to 'vote blanc' — not mark a candidate or spoil his ballot — because he doesn't like either candidate. (Laura Howells/CBC)

"Le Pen is an extremist, and Macron is not good for our economy, so I prefer to vote white," he said at a crowded bar Friday night.

Other people said they were spoiling their ballots as well, believing that showing up to the polls is their civic duty even if they don't choose a candidate.

"It's a chance to be Frenchmen here," said one man smoking outside a restaurant, his friend translating. "Because France helps — they've given a lot of subsidies and cash. So it's a chance, but that's it."

However, not everyone feels that. Benoît Germe was one of the first people at the town hall polling station Saturday morning.

Le Pen visited territory

"When you don't vote you shut your mouth," said Germe, who said he voted for Macron because of his support for Europe and openness to the rest of the world. He calls Le Pen a "fascist" who'll be dangerous for the country.

Several people who supported Le Pen were reluctant to speak to CBC News.

However, those people said they like how she's shaking up the system. Le Pen actually visited St-Pierre and Miquelon in March last year, a highly unusual stop for a French politician.

Roger Rode, the local representative for the National Front, firmly believes Marine Le Pen is the right choice for St-Pierre-Miquelon (Laura Howells/CBC)

'You can never be sure'

Roger Rode, the representative of the National Front in the territory, said Le Pen could improve the archipelago by modernizing the fishing industry and creating a direct air link between St-Pierre-Miquelon and the mainland.

French Senator and St-Pierre Mayor Karine Claireaux said Le Pen will bring nothing to the territory, and she's worried about people spoiling ballots. Macron is well ahead in the polls, but there are no guarantees, she said.

Karine Claireaux is serving her third term as mayor of St-Pierre-Miquelon. She's also the French senator for the territory (Laura Howells/CBC)

"You can never be sure of these things. Never," said Claireaux, a Socialist Party member for whom Macron was not her first choice.

"People who are not going to vote, who are voting blanc, they are giving more force, more strength to Marine Le Pen. And that to me is a very bad thing."