Voters across Canada are heading to the polls today, and those in Newfoundland and Labrador were the first in the country to cast their ballots in what is looking to be a close race.
The polls opened in Newfoundland at 8:30 a.m. NT, and in most of Labrador at 8 a.m. AT. Polls will be open for 12 hours.
But in Natuashish, on Labrador’s coast, the Elections Canada crew was unable to get into the community because of flight delays due to weather conditions, meaning polls didn’t open at 8 a.m. as scheduled.
The crew got on the early flight Monday morning, with polls open behind schedule, but still set to close at 8 p.m.
Labrador Conservative candidate Larry Flemming told CBC News Monday afternoon he filed a complaint with Elections Canada, because he is concerned some people won’t be able to vote. He said he was told the polling station would open at 1 p.m.
Voter information cards have been mailed to registered voters with information about where to cast a ballot. People will have to prove their identity and address; however, even without a photo ID or a voter card, people will still be able to vote by signing a declaration.
For voters like Rosellen Sullivan, who was among the first hour of voters to cast their ballots in the federal election, it’s been an important campaign.
“There are a lot of issues and I just think this election is particularly important. I think there’s a lot of uncertainty in the country right now, and I think every vote counts,” she said.
“I know that’s a cliché, but actually, compared to the last election where I think there was a lot of non-turnouts, I think it was really important for people to vote this time around.”
Hearing federal leaders discuss provincial issues, especially the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric megaproject, was important for Sullivan, who said she’s not sure how the election results will roll in.
“Like I said, every vote counts and I wouldn’t be upset with a minority government at the moment, but I do think that this is going to be a really interesting night,” she said.
First-time voter Robyn King said she wasn’t particularly worried about a close race, and voted for what she felt was best.
“I just chose the party that I thought was good for Canada and for our province,” she said.
The biggest issue, as far as she’s concerned, is climate change — something she felt was lacking in detail in the party platforms.
“Climate change was definitely the biggest one. It’s just something that we need to do [something] about and I don’t think anybody right now really cares about it,” she said.
“But I think it’s a big problem and we need to address it right now.”
King wasn’t alone; fellow voter Ben Fushell said climate change was the biggest concern for him, too.
Climate change is my biggest issue. Education, probably, and the future of our grandchildren,” Fushell said, adding that he, too, wasn’t satisfied with what the parties had to say at the doors on the issue.
None of ’em, nope. The ones that came to our door and the ones they asked, they avoided the issue.”
Fushell said the most important thing is for people to “get out and vote,” a sentiment echoed by Clara Anstey, who also cast her ballot Monday morning.
Anstey said her biggest concern as a senior was ensuring security and health care.
“I just want to make certain that we’re not left in the cold,” she said.
“I guess finances, retirement homes, nursing homes — I think we need more.”
Brief visits from leaders and a ‘foregone conclusion’
While Quebec and Ontario have been important battlegrounds for the federal leaders, they’ve spent little of the 40-day campaign in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer both made quick campaign stops in the province.
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh visited St. John’s prior to the start of the election in early September, while Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was in the province in late July.
The leaders efforts are a reflection of election results Memorial University political scientist Kelly Blidook has called “a forgone conclusion” for most of the province.
The Liberals took a clean sweep of Atlantic Canada in the 2015 election, including all seven seats in Newfoundland and Labrador. Yvonne Jones and Gudie Hutchings both coasted to victory with more than 70 per cent of the vote in their respective ridings.
The most hotly contested riding in the province will likely be St. John’s East, where Liberal incumbent Nick Whalen and former New Democrat MP Jack Harris are anticipated to battle it out.
Whalen bested Harris by less than 1.5 percentage points in 2015 — a seat Harris held for the NDP in the 2008 and 2011 elections.
“I think it is going to be close. You had to put a lot of thought into not only the candidate, but the party, so strategically you go back and forth,” said Sullivan.
Trudeau, Scheer and Singh all spent their brief visits to the province in the St. John’s East riding.
For her part, Sullivan said she didn’t put a lot of weight into what the leaders promised for the province.
“I’m not so naive,” she said.
“People say what they think you want to hear, so I didn’t really particularly pay a whole lot of attention to the individual-specific promises.”
But with Newfoundland and Labrador trailing every province and territory other than Nunavut in voter turnout in the last two federal elections, and low turnout in advanced polls this time around, there’ll be extra work for campaigns and candidates to get voters out to the polls.
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