The leader of the Prince Edward Island Green Party is praising his rivals for putting people ahead of partisanship after a tragedy that rocked Canada’s smallest province days before an election.
Peter Bevan-Baker released a statement Sunday addressing the death of candidate Josh Underhay, a 35-year-old teacher who perished with his six-year-old son Oliver in a canoe accident Friday.
Bevan-Baker, who could be on the cusp of becoming Canada’s first Green premier, said recent days have been the most difficult of his political career, “torn between my private grief at the death of a candidate and friend… and my obligations as Green Party leader.”
Though Greens are leading in the polls, Bevan-Baker announced Saturday that the party would suspend all campaign-related activities ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
And in a move that Bevan-Baker singled out as something special about the Island, Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, and New Democrats also paused their campaigns Saturday out of respect for Underhay.
‘I am reminded how blessed we are’
“Within hours of hearing the tragic news, all parties cancelled their political ads, put their campaigns and events on hold, and reached out both personally and publicly with expressions of support and sympathy,” Bevan-Baker said in the release.
“In politics, it is often tempting to remember the negative and forget the positive, but this weekend I am reminded how blessed we are to have politicians and a political culture that can be counted on to put people and community ahead of partisan differences.”
Bevan-Baker confirmed in the statement that Green candidates will not be canvassing Monday, though most campaign offices will be open.
He also noted that messages of condolence and support from across the Island and the rest of Canada have made the difficult time “bearable.”
Elections P.E.I. announced over the weekend that it has cancelled the vote in District 9, Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park, where Underhay was on the ballot. Instead, a byelection will be held within the next three months.
A GoFundMe campaign launched for Underhay’s wife, Karri Shea, and son Linden has already raised more than $80,000.
Bevan-Baker, a Scottish-born former dentist who was acclaimed as his party’s leader in 2012, told HuffPost Canada last month that he felt some extra pressure to deliver a historic win for Greens that could give a boost to federal cousins in this fall’s campaign.
Watch: Peter Bevan-Baker says he’s keen to make history
“We’re all aware that people are watching what’s going on here because we’re breaking new ground,” he said at the time.
Bevan-Baker called the growing support for his party in recent years a local expression of a global phenomenon that has voters pulling away from “conventional politics and unimaginative politicians.”
He said Greens have worked hard to show they are more than a single-issue party with what he called clear policies on everything from education and health to the economy.
And P.E.I. has a track record of making history. It was the first province to be lead by an openly gay male premier and a premier of non-European descent.
The governing Liberals, led by current premier Wade MacLauchlan, are seeking a fourth term.
Islanders head to the polls Tuesday.
With files from The Canadian Press, earlier files