Lower taxes? More jobs? Byelection candidates suss out what's driving voters in Topsail-Paradise
3 candidates, 3 distinct campaigns ahead of Jan. 24 vote
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are facing two general elections this year, but a lucky subset of eastern Avalon voters get to mark a third ballot next week in a vote to fill the provincial legislature's only empty seat.
The Topsail-Paradise district, which was rejigged in 2015 to include parts of Paradise and Conception Bay South, has been without a representative since since Paul Davis stepped down in November.
On Jan. 24, the byelection pits a town councillor against a teacher and a responsible-drinking advocate. All three candidates are touting sharply varied issues facing the area.
Here they are:
Paul Dinn, Progressive Conservatives
Having lived in the district for over two decades and served as town councillor for the past six years, Paul Dinn is no stranger to Paradise, nor to the issues his neighbours care about most.
While they don't always agree on how to solve local problems, Dinn stresses he'll be an accessible face at Confederation Building.
"I get a call, I answer the call," Dinn said. "It may not be the answer you're looking for, but you will get an answer from me and you will get feedback from me."
Dinn, running his campaign from Paul Davis's old office — now crammed with volunteers glued to phones and clipboards — said he's hearing complaints about the 1.6-kilometre rule for school bus transport, concerns over water and sewer hookups, and anxiety about higher taxes from seniors on fixed incomes.
He plans to tackle those issues in the legislature, if elected, and says voters have a good idea of his experience. That confidence, alongside potential clues to a changing tide, leads Dinn to cautious optimism — his usual mindset, he admits — about next week's outcome.
"I think the last two byelections have sort of set the floor in terms of PC wins," Dinn said. "Coming up in an election year, I think it's a very important seat. You're keeping your momentum going."
Patricia Hynes-Coates, Liberals
While Dinn is trying to move from municipal chambers to the provincial stage, Patricia Hynes-Coates is, in a sense, looking to downsize. Having led Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada as national president for over two years, she said she feels ready to step into a more local role, representing constituents in an area where her children grew up.
Hynes-Coates is known for campaigning against impaired driving, which took the life of her stepson in 2013.
"We took a tragedy and made change all across Canada," she said. "I provided a strong voice. I have passion and believed in what I was doing, and I want to bring that back to the people, the constituents of the Topsail-Paradise area."
Hynes-Coates wouldn't discuss what she's been hearing on doorsteps during the campaign, citing a concern over the privacy of constituents. But, in broader terms, she said her ears are open to a range of issues affecting the province as a whole.
"As long as I listen, as long as I pay attention, as long as I learn, I think I'll be very successful," she said. "I'm an every-day person. What people go through, living paycheque to paycheque, having to have two jobs to survive — that's what my family and I have gone through."
With the full force of the ruling party behind her, Hynes-Coates hopes her lack of legislative experience won't get in the way of a win.
"I'm being promised that I will be brought up to speed," she said. "I will listen. I will study."
Kathleen Burt, NDP
Campaigning on a shoestring budget, Kathleen Burt, a college instructor, sees herself as a viable third option, one that makes people — not the bottom line — the priority, she said.
While canvassing in Paradise last week, Burt encountered a longtime Tory voter with concerns about high taxes. As Burt listened, the man's daughter also raised questions, asking Burt for improved health and housing services.
Burt said she would deal with conflicting demands like these by putting the needs of constituents first.
"I think the important thing here is where is the priorities lie," she said. "Lots of times we're told by economists that there's no money for this, there's no money for that. But I think if we value something then we're going to put our money into it."
Burt said Newfoundland and Labrador needs to raise its minimum wage, currently the third-lowest in Canada, to an amount that could ameliorate the affordable housing woes she's heard from the district so far.
Policies to encourage better jobs could also keep young people from leaving, she said, adding that her own students have been among those forced to look elsewhere for work.
"A lot of them ended up leaving to go elsewhere for jobs," she said. "And it's sad to see that, because there's a lot of talent, a lot of creativity, a lot of innovation there and it's just gone away."
The NDP hold two seats in the House of Assembly. A third, she says, could give the party momentum heading into the fall election.
"Let's face it, we've had the Liberal government, we've had the Conservative government, and they haven't made the best decisions for the people living in this province," Burt said.
"I think that I can offer people another choice, because I think the NDP has always worked for the people and always asked the questions that kept the government's feet to the fire."
Advance polls are open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Jan. 17 and 19.