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PEI Green party candidate Josh Underhay and son killed in canoeing accident

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CHARLOTTETOWN — With only a few days before voters were to go to the polls in Prince Edward Island, the Green party suspended all campaigning Saturday after the sudden death of one of its candidates and his young son.

The party confirmed Saturday that Josh Underhay and his son died in a canoeing accident on Friday afternoon.

Voting day is Tuesday.

Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, whose party has been leading in the polls, issued a statement saying he was bereft when he learned of Underhay’s death.

“Josh has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for many years, as a volunteer, musician, passionate cycling advocate and Green party supporter,” Bevan-Baker said.

“He has touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including the students he taught, fellow musicians and members of the party … Josh brought humour, enthusiasm and boundless energy to every situation.”

Bevan-Baker said the Greens would suspend all election-related activities for the remainder of the campaign.

The province’s three other major parties suspended all campaign events scheduled for Saturday.

The RCMP issued a statement saying two canoeists were reported missing Friday after they failed to show up at an agreed pick-up point along the Hillsborough River, which cuts through the middle of the Island and empties into the Northumberland Strait near Charlottetown.

Firefighters, police and a volunteer ground search team were called in to look for the pair. They had help from a police tracking dog and an aerial drone.

Police would not identify the victims, but a Green party official confirmed Underhay and his son were later found in the water near their capsized canoe.

Though they were wearing flotation devices, both were declared dead at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, police said.

Police asked for the public’s help as they continued their investigation, saying they’d like to hear from anyone who saw a red canoe on the Hillsborough River on Friday afternoon.

Later in the day, Elections P.E.I. issued a statement saying it had invoked a section of the Elections Act to cancel the vote in Underhay’s district and order a byelection within the next three months.

Underhay, a married father of two boys, had been the Greens’ candidate in District 9, Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park.

According to a profile on the party’s website, he was a teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School in Charlottetown, as well as an experienced musician and a student of languages, speaking English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Czech.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his condolences in a tweet, saying Underhay was “committed to serving his community, his students, and all of P.E.I.”

“The tragic accident that took him and his son is absolutely heart-breaking,” the prime minister said.

Federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May said she knew Underhay well.

“To lose Josh and his son in such a tragic accident is unbearably sad,” May said in a tweet. “My deepest condolences to his family and all members of the P.E.I. Green family.”

Provincial Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King issued a statement saying the tragic loss of Underhay and his son marked “a heart-breaking day for all Islanders.”

“It is a reminder of how fragile life is and how often we take it for granted,” King said. “Josh was a dedicated teacher and community leader who had a love for life and a passion for people. He was an advocate, talented musician and friend to many.”

The Green party has been leading in opinion polls since August, but the race remains too close to call when the margin of error in recent surveys is factored in.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be seeking a fourth term on Tuesday, which has prompted some critics to suggest the party has overstayed its welcome.

The close numbers have also raised the possibility of a minority government, which would mark a historic moment for the Island. The last time a minority was elected in P.E.I. was 1890.

The Conservatives have been plagued by infighting for the past eight years, churning through no fewer than six leaders, including King, who was elected in February.

However, the party enjoyed a boost in the polls the following month, leaving them in a virtual tie with the Liberals.

As for the Island’s New Democrats, led by Joe Byrne, their poll numbers have remained at single digits for the past year.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The Canadian Press

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Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

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OTTAWA — Zuhair Alshaer spends most of his day editing articles and organizing interviews with politicians for his Ottawa-based Arab Canada newspaper, to introduce Arabic-speaking new Canadians to federal politics.

The community Alshaer’s paper serves is growing — more immigrants are arriving in Canada from Africa, Asia and the Middle East than ever before, surpassing Europe that was once the dominant source.

And it is also becoming more politically engaged: The voting rate of immigrant from West Central Asia and the Middle East increased to 73 per cent in the 2015 election from the 57 per cent recorded four years earlier, the largest increase among the 10 immigrant regions studied by Statistics Canada.

For Alshaer, and other ethnic media outlets, all his efforts are aimed at helping Arabic-speaking new Canadians kick isolation and get involved in politics.

“We’re trying to encourage our audience to integrate,” he said. “We show them how important is to participate in politics.”

Research published by Statistics Canada in 2016 highlighted that new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population. Their numbers are likely to increase in the coming years: Statistics Canada projects the proportion of foreign-born individuals who immigrated to Canada could reach between 25 per cent and 30 per cent by 2036.

Alshaer, a Palestinian immigrant who came to Canada 20 years ago, is hoping that his monthly newspaper, launched three years ago, will connect his community with federal politics, so more people cast a ballot on Oct. 21.

“We should believe that Canada is our country and behave accordingly,” he said.

The most recent issue of his newspaper, published earlier this month, included an op-ed signed by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, and an extended interview with Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre, who are seeking re-election in their respective Ottawa-area seats.

“We worked on building trust between our audience and the politicians and candidates,” said Alshaer, the paper’s editor-in-chief. “We don’t have any affiliation with any candidate or political party.”

But newcomers from countries with no established democratic traditions is an obstacle that makes participating in Canadian politics more challenging. Research has also shown that lower-income individuals — a group that includes newcomers — may not see voting as a priority for because they are more focused on more immediate concerns, adding another obstacle.

“A lot of newcomers, in the first few years, are facing tremendous anxiety and challenges when it comes to economic and social integration,” said Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, who was born in Saudi Arabia to a Syrian family and immigrated to Canada about 30 years ago.

Statistics Canada data show that turnout rates for established immigrants, defined as those who lived in the country for at least 10 years, was a few points higher in 2015 than recent immigrants.

Overall, turnout rates were up by 14.4 percentage points in 2015 compared to the 2011 election, Statistics Canada said, with above-average increases recorded for newcomers from West Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Getting used to the idea of voting “takes a few years for newcomers to wrap their heads around it,” Algabra said. He added it was important to explain to new Canadians that the outcomes of the election “will have an immediate impact on their lives” and each outcome could mean different things to different people.

A few of the volunteers with Algabra’s re-election campaign are newcomers. Some don’t even have their permanent residency or citizenship, but are “excited about living in a country with a society that encourages participation and democratic practices,” Algabra said.

“I’ve also seen a group of newcomers who are extremely excited about earning their Canadian citizenship,” Alghabra said. “They are really keen on not only voting, but also participating in democratic process.”

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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Saskatchewan abandons commitment to improve northern airport after crash: chief

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Louie Mercredi of the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation

REGINA — A chief of a remote Saskatchewan First Nation says the province’s decision not to help improve an airport runway in his community while doing so in a city outside Regina shows racism.

Louie Mercredi of the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation says the province is abandoning its commitment to develop the runway near his isolated northern reserve.

He says the airport is in poor condition and the runway needs to be expanded. He’s been pushing for changes since one person died and nine were seriously injured following a plane crash there in December 2017.

Lori Carr, minister of government relations, says the province didn’t receive a completed application for the project.

She says officials requested in June that the First Nation hand in a full application, but it was not done.

“It should not come down to an application,” Mercredi told a news conference in Regina on Thursday.

“I have told my people that we are getting a runway upgraded so the province (has) created a liar. I’ve lied to my people.”

Mercredi said the province was almost done with the design of the project. He says the First Nation submitted an application in March, but it was incomplete because staff lacked technical expertise.

He wants the province to help finish the application and fund the project, since the government committed to doing so.

“Now that I’ve found out a Moose Jaw airport application was also late and that was accepted by the province, what is going on here?” he said.

“Are they just supporting their ridings? What I’m seeing is racism here.”

“This airport is the only access point for many northern communities and the fact that needed improvements still haven’t been made is ridiculous,” said Opposition infrastructure critic Buckley Belanger.

A runway expansion for Moose Jaw was one of nearly 30 projects the province brought to the federal government in a request for infrastructure funding, which has been the subject of an ongoing dispute between Saskatchewan and Ottawa.

The Saskatchewan NDP said the government has been engaged in “partisan finger-pointing” over infrastructure funding.

Mercredi said he has sent about a dozen letters to the provincial government seeking updates to his proposal and was under the impression the province was still committed to paying for runway improvements.

“Still ’til today no response.”

He said he learned through a news report that the runway wasn’t a priority for the province.

Deputy premier Gord Wyant has said the upgrades are not a priority for the government this budget year.

“What is more important than human lives?” Mercredi asked.

“What kind of government is this when they prioritize landfills before human lives?”

Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said applications shouldn’t be the issue and the province should focus on safety.

Mercredi said the Fond du Lac runway isn’t safe for larger aircraft, so people are transported on smaller planes and their flights are consistently delayed.

As well, he said, most of their food is flown in and that’s fallen behind due to having to downsize the planes being used.

Carr said Fond du Lac’s existing runway is safe and the Transportation Safety Board didn’t find the airstrip contributed to the 2017 crash.

The safety board said in a report in December that the pilot of the plane took off despite noticing ice on the aircraft during a pre-flight inspection.

The board said people using remote, northern airports are at substantial risk because of a lack of proper equipment for de-icing planes.

The federal government announced in February that it was spending $12 million for safety upgrades at the airport.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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