Charlotte-Campobello's new dawn


Published Friday September 24th, 2010

Election: With incumbent Tony Huntjens retiring, the field is wide open for five new candidates

Derwin Gowan, Telegraph-Journal

ST. STEPHEN - Candidates soliciting support in Charlotte-Campobello face a challenge.

Early in September they campaigned through a heat wave, then a hurricane. Temperatures moderated but, now, people worry more about back to school. Who has time for an election?

On a sweltering day before Hurricane Earl, Progressive Conservative Curtis Malloch leaned his head out his car window to offer a reporter in St. Stephen a drive.


The Campobello fisherman was headed back to his campaign headquarters on Milltown Boulevard for water after a few hours of going door to door.

Liberal Annabelle Juneau, a retired federal civil servant from St. Stephen, held a staff meeting on the sidewalk in front of her King Street headquarters - cooler than inside. More recently education support workers have protested outside her headquarters.

St. Andrews Mayor John Craig, an assistant grocery store manager who lost the Progressive Conservative nomination to Malloch, carries the hopes of the People's Alliance of New Brunswick.

His headquarters is across the street from Juneau's. He stopped in front of her office one day to express support for the education workers.

Janice Harvey of Waweig, president of the Green Party of New Brunswick, is also running, while social worker Lloyd Groom of St. Stephen retired several months early to throw in his hat for the New Democratic Party.

Voters in the riding will elect a new MLA Monday because incumbent Progressive Conservative Tony Huntjens decided to retire.

With two more candidates running than in 2006, all five must beat the roads for votes, Al Corbett believes.

The former newspaper photographer and retired businessman served 14 years on St. Stephen town council.

He identifies himself as a Progressive Conservative but votes independently. He thinks he knows who will win but does not wish to put it on the record.

Five candidates present scenarios for one to spoil another's chances, forcing them all to hustle.

"Twenty votes could separate the winner and first runner up," Corbett said over coffee at the Border Café in St. Stephen. "When you've got that plentiful a field of candidates to choose from, a handful of votes can determine it."

The Electoral Boundaries and Representation Commission created Charlotte-Campobello in 2006, cutting Charlotte seats from three to two.

This riding includes Campobello Island, the towns of St. Stephen and St. Andrews and the St. Croix River/Passamaquoddy Bay shoreline as far as Bocabec. It covers a large rural district, which people collectively call "the ridges."

Years ago Charlotte County elected four MLAs, nearly always to the government side, earning it a reputation as the "bellwether" riding.

With only two seats in 2006, Charlotte County voters sent a member to each side of the legislature - Liberal Rick Doucet in Charlotte-The Isles, Progressive Conservative Huntjens in Charlotte-Campobello.

Getting a member on the right side of the legislature does not matter as much as it once did, Corbett said.

The government approved kidney dialysis for the Charlotte County Hospital in St. Stephen, in Huntjens' riding. "We didn't have to have a member on the government side to get that," Corbett said.

Likewise, plans went ahead to build the new Department of Transportation garage in St. Stephen.

The government completed the western end of the new four-lane Route 1 through opposition territory, before announcing contracts to widen the remaining two-lane sections through Doucet's riding.

The Liberals approved money for the yet-to-be-built Garcelon Civic Centre in Huntjens' riding as well as the Grand Manan Community Centre in Doucet's.

"That's a thing of the past, wanting on the government side," Corbett said. "It's pretty well evenly doled out today."

He credits the news media for keeping a degree of "fairness and honesty" in government spending decisions.

Whether Charlotte County establishes a new pattern by electing one to each side of the legislature could provide fodder for election night commentary.

Do not believe politicians who claim not to follow polls, Corbett said. "They pay no attention to polls; no they don't, unless it's in their favour," he said.

"Why vote? They're no good," Benny Vienneau said in St. St. Stephen in response to a "man on the street" interview question.

"People get discouraged when there's nobody out there they want to vote for," Kevin Stuart, president of the St. Stephen Business Improvement Area said after listening to Vienneau.

Communities here have issues, not always falling into neat federal, provincial, municipal categories.

The stricter rules crossing the border to the United States sparked a movement for a year-round ferry from Campobello Island to the New Brunswick mainland.

The government committed $20,000 to study the issue. Other candidates agree the island needs an alternative link besides the bridge to Lubec, Maine.

Campobello Islanders intend to elect their first mayor and council this fall. They voted in a plebiscite in May to incorporate as a rural municipality.

Many people believe that municipal government and a ferry will help the island staunch the steady loss of population.

With the Charlotte County seats dropping from four to three to two, candidates must present a vision for the future, hanging onto people, catching the ear of power in Fredericton and Ottawa.

The brouhaha over St. Stephen's noise bylaw ties in.

Border Café owner Brenda Vanhorne has a court date to fight tickets for breaching the municipal bylaw by hosting unlicensed outdoor karaoke nights.

Juneau, the Liberal candidate, decided not to muddy her provincial campaign with a strictly local issue. Most of the other candidates seem to take the same stance - but Craig jumped in.

On a recent Saturday night the St. Andrews mayor delivered a political speech from the microphone at the Border Café karaoke.

St. Stephen needs more events like this to create a buzz on the front street on the weekend with the new bridge and bypass diverting through-traffic, he said.

The environment could be the sleeper issue benefiting Harvey the Green candidate, Corbett suggested.

Harvey and Craig both prominently oppose the plans for liquefied natural gas plants on the Maine side of Passamaquoddy Bay. Huntjens spoke against these proposals. Malloch, a fisherman, does not want LNG tankers in the bay. Liberal Premier Shawn Graham opposes the plans, too, publicly disagreeing with Maine Gov. John Baldacci.

As mayor of St. Andrews, Craig led the charge against the proposal by Jamer Materials to open a new stone quarry at Bayside. Huntjens opposed this project, too. Jamer would not find too many supporters among the Greens or New Democrats. Liberal Environment Minister Roland Haché killed the project in the end.

Conservative MP Greg Thompson spoke as loudly as anyone against both the LNG and Jamer proposals, leading to interesting political alliances crossing party lines.

The Jamer issue could cut both ways. Some people not living in the immediate area supported it for the jobs and income it would have created. Some people on the Canadian side support the LNG projects in Maine for the same reason.

Benefit from activity in Calais spills over to St. Stephen, they reason.

Visions for the future clash even as all recognize the problems.