Voters in Placentia-St. Mary’s will have some more time to reflect on who they want to cast their vote for.
Along with 17 other districts in the Avalon, voting for residents in Placentia-St. Mary’s has been delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the St. John’s Metro area.
Meanwhile, Liberal incumbent Sherry Gambin-Walsh says her constituents have more than her word to hold her accountable; they have her record.
“My record shows that I’ve brought millions of dollars to the district of Placentia-St. Mary’s, from $500 grants to million-dollar capital works projects,” said Gambin-Walsh, who has been the focus of two major controversies during her time in office: one involving former Liberal stalwart Eddie Joyce, whom she accused of bullying, and the other involving the leaking of cabinet information. “You should vote for me because I’m ready and available for you if you have an issue… I’m easy to access and I have no problem standing up and advocating for your issue.”
Gambin-Walsh was elected in the 2015 provincial election and beat PC candidate Hilda Whalen in 2019 by just over 500 votes — a margin of about 10 percent. The margin was not quite as comfortable as her over 2,000 vote lead against PC candidate Judy Manning in 2015.
Gambin-Walsh said residents in her district, which is geographically larger than most, have different concerns depending on where they live. For example, while employment on the Cape Shore is not a concern due to the landing of fishery boats in Branch, employment in St. Mary’s Bay area is a major issue.
“We don’t have any good source of solid employment anymore,” said Gambin-Walsh. “Once upon a time, we did have a fish plant down in St. Mary’s. It’s dormant right now, but I do now that the operator is trying to get his license re-established. He hasn’t been successful yet, but I do really support that, because I have a significant number of people down there having to access programs, seek community enhancement programs and job creation programs, specifically because they have no other source of income. And to drive from Peter’s River to Tim Hortons in CBS for minimum wage, you’re in the negative, you’re not in the positive. The evidence is there. The dollar amount that has gone out in JCP this year alone is excessive, so that’s a problem in that area.”
Another concern, is the defunct Admirals Beach fish plant, which “is currently falling into the ocean,” said Gambin-Walsh. “It’s going to cost anywhere from $700,000 to a million to get it down, and there’s no jobs created in taking it down because it will be tendered. There has been a study done that shows there are some environmental chemicals that are dangerous to the environment, so that’s an issue at Admirals Beach.”
Meanwhile, residents throughout the district are worried about the future of Argentia and the White Rose offshore oil project, while residents in Dunville worry about the need for water infrastructure upgrades, estimated, said Gambin-Walsh, at about $10-11 million, while residents in Placentia wonder about the increased construction costs of a wellness centre.
Across the district as a whole, residents decry the state of many provincial roads. “Roads, roads, roads, roads, roads, I’m constantly hearing about roads,” said Gambin-Walsh, who added that millions of provincial dollars have gone towards roads in the district over the years, but there are still roads that need to be done. Access to general and nurse practitioners is also an issue.
“Another thing I’m hearing about, and this is something I’m experiencing myself, as my son is an individual with autism, is the access to GP’s,” said Gambin-Walsh. “People are having difficulty accessing GPs, and they’re having difficulty even accessing nurse practitioners to meet their needs.”
Gambin-Walsh said constituents who do have access to family doctors and have been availing of virtual appointments during the pandemic have been mostly satisfied with the service, but there are still too many people without proper access to healthcare.
“I have a number of constituents in my district who do not have access to a GP, and that is a problem, that is a huge problem,” Gambin-Walsh admitted.
She said constituents haven’t raised concerns about her removal from cabinet last year following an RCMP investigation that showed she broke cabinet confidentially by leaking information regarding a promotion in the RNC. She was not charged, but Premier Andrew Furey did not reappoint her to cabinet.
“With this RCMP investigation, constituents are not interested at all,” said Gambin-Walsh. “I was prepared and offering to answer questions at the door to my constituents directly, but they don’t want to hear about it, they don’t want to talk about it, they’re not interested.”
Gambin-Walsh said constituents are, however, eager to hear details about her involvement in 2018 bullying allegations against former Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce.
At the time Joyce, seen by many political watchers as perhaps the loyalist Liberal in the province having relinquished his seat in 1989 so Clyde Wells could serve in the legislature as Premier, was serving as Minister of Municipal Affairs and charged with making tough decisions about a sea of demands coming in from MHAs for funding from their towns.
Gambin-Walsh said constituents are happy that she spoke up against Joyce, and that some have even gone so far as to read the official reports. After then Premier Dwight Ball allegedly failed to keep a private promise to back Joyce against the charges of bullying, he left the Liberal party and sat as an Independent, getting re-elected without party affiliation in 2019.
“The 2018 situation with MHA Joyce, that got get a bit of attention, and people were very curious and did ask me a fair bit about that. They are interested in bullying and harassment though. And they’re happy that I spoke up against it,” said Gambin-Walsh. “When I look at my social media, my Twitter and my Facebook, when I see anyone saying something negative, when I check out their account, it’s ether a troll account or the person doesn’t live in my district.”.
As to Furey, Gambin-Walsh said he is a more than capable leader.
She added that despite cries from the PC and NDP that Furey should not have called the election during a pandemic or during the winter, people are actually more engaged in this election than in previous years.
“I am finding that people are more interested in this election than they were in ’15 and ’19,” she said. “This time, people are truly interested in what’s happening with COVID, they’re interested in the economy, they’re interested in chatting with me and getting my opinion… I think, now I could be wrong, but I think we’re going to have a very high turn out by the end of this election.”
Gambin-Walsh said there’s been another noticeable difference in this year’s campaign.
“I can’t keep a sign up. I have about 50 signs gone. They’re destroyed. People have called and said they’re beat up and up in the dump,” said Gambin-Walsh, adding some constituents have had to display their signs in shed windows for fear of having them removed — again.
“I’ve been firm in telling my volunteers not to touch the other signs, regardless of the number of signs we lose. Just keep going… this is not going to slow us down.”
Voters will choose between Gambin-Walsh, PC candidate Calvin Manning, and NL Alliance hopeful Clem Whittle.
Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News