Ken Carter says he knew he was in for a fight when he put his name forward to challenge a strong incumbent in the district of Topsail – Paradise this past election.
“I knew this district was going to be an uphill battle, there’s no doubt about that,” said Carter. “I’ve been around politics for over 20 years, but it’s the first time I’ve put my name on a ballot. The expectation certainly met what I thought it was going to be.”
The district has gone PC for the past handful of elections and by-elections. The current incumbent is Paul Dinn, a former Paradise town councilor who claimed the seat in a 2018 by-election following the resignation of then Premier Paul Davis. Dinn held onto the seat during the 2019 election and again last week.
The Liberals haven’t elected a member to the seat since the 1999 election, when the district was known simply as Topsail before the 2015 electoral districts boundaries review.
Carter earned 2,525 votes to Dinn’s 3,036, creating a closer race than the previous election.
“One thing we have to remember is that in 2019 the PCs won this district by over an 1,800 vote margin,” said Carter. “We were able to close that down to about 500 votes.”
Election Day was initially scheduled for February 13, but due to a COVID outbreak, in-person voting was cancelled, and voting was ported to mail-in ballots only. There were several more delays until the election finally concluded this past Saturday.
“I was prepared for a 28-day campaign,” said Carter, who admitted the prolonged contest was draining both physically and mentally. “By Day 71, when the results came out, it had dragged on for a very long period of time.”
Like most challengers, Carter had to step away from his day job to compete in the election.
“I was off work for 10 weeks without pay,” said Carter, who will return to his job as Senior Special Advisor with the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. “It was grueling, and more than I ever thought it was going to be.”
Aside from the toll paid by candidates and constituents alike, Carter said he believed the extended election and the controversary surrounding it harmed the Liberal party.
“I really think that the 71-Day campaign affected the results in this district,” said Carter. “Unfortunately, I think some people blamed the Premier for calling the election when he did. And I’ll stand by him on that; the election didn’t cause the COVID outbreak, nor did the premier cause the COVID outbreak. No one foresaw that coming. And I think those who blamed the premier probably affected some districts. And this district might have been one of them.”
With that said, Carter said he has no plans to challenge the results, and he was quick to call Dinn on Saturday to congratulate him.
He also noted that voter turnout in the district was actually up from the 2019 election.
“In the district of Topsail-Paradise, there were 5,700 people who voted in 2019,” said Carter. “There were 6,000 people who voted in this election. So, we had a higher turnout than in 2019. So, the ability to vote was certainly not affected in this district.”
Election Day itself, typically a day of hustle and bustle to get identified supporters to the polls on time, was also different this year.
“Friday and Saturday were pretty long days,” said Carter. “Saturday morning you spent four or five hours just walking around the house waiting for the results to come out. And at noon, you’re on your iPad, and you touch a button, and then, bang, you know if you won or lost.”
Normally, volunteers are on the ground watching polling stations to see if party loyalists have cast their votes, phoning those they haven’t seen show up.
Not so this year.
“We knew from Elections NL who requested a ballot,” said Carter. “We didn’t know, and still don’t know, who returned a ballot. Normally on election day, you’re watching your support go in and vote, you’re getting feedback, so you know who voted, so then you bring your list down to who you have to focus on to get them out to vote. We couldn’t do that, because, we knew who had applied for a ballot, but we didn’t know who had retuned a ballot.”
Instead, Carter said, they checked up on voters in the week before the election to ensure that they had submitted their ballots. Because most voters on the Liberal call list had already submitted their ballots by the earlier March 12 deadline (which was itself an extension of the March 5 deadline, which was an extension of the March 1 deadline) there was little to be done after those ballots had been submitted.
Despite the loss and disappointment, Carter said he’s especially pleased with his team’s efforts.
“I’ll put the team I was able to rally around me against any team in the province, “said Carter. “So, I’m pleased and humbled by the support that I got. On any given Saturday, I had 15 or 20 people who showed up to knock on doors. I had a group of five people who, in the rain, on a Saturday, walked from Cozy Kitchen in Paradise, which was one end of the district, all the way to the (Manuels) Interpretation Centre, and knocked on every single door.”
That trek took from about 10 in the morning and finished up around 5:30 p.m.
“That’s an example of the commitment of the people,” said Carter.
For those who have thought of throwing their name in the hat in the next provincial election, Carter has some advice.
“You have to have a solid team of volunteers behind you,” he said. “There’s no way you can do it alone. And you’ve got to have money in the bank. Because elections are not cheap.”
Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News