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.
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.
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.
“I simply cannot imagine how much (Underhay) will be missed,” Bevan-Baker said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and I know we will all join together to provide each other with support and comfort during this terrible time.”
A GoFundMe campaign has launched to raise money for Underhay’s family. As of 11:22 a.m., 456 people had donated $25,670.
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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 Opposition Progressive Conservatives have been plagued by infighting for the past eight years, churning through no fewer than six leaders, including Dennis 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.