Islanders of all political stripes were united in sorrow Saturday.
All four political parties showed unity after the deaths of a Green party candidate and his young son sent a shockwave through P.E.I. just days before the provincial election.
As a sign of respect, parties announced Friday night that political events scheduled for Saturday were cancelled. The parties ceased their campaigns, while lobby groups on both sides of the electoral reform referendum also stopped advertising.
In a statement to media, Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said he was bereft to learn of what he described as a tragic accident.
He said Josh Underhay was a friend and colleague, as well as a volunteer, musician and passionate cycling advocate.
“He has touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including the students he taught, fellow musicians, and members of the party,” said Bevan-Baker. “Whether advocating for proportional representation, dazzling us with his mastery of languages, or being there to support fellow candidates, Josh brought humour, enthusiasm and boundless energy to every situation.
“I simply cannot imagine how much he will be missed.”
Bevan-Baker said all Green party election activities were suspended for the remainder of the campaign.
As many gathered at Charlottetown’s Haviland Club Saturday afternoon to honour the father and son, the other candidates in District 9 Charlottetown-Hillsborough removed their signs so only Underhay’s would remain.
In a Facebook post, the district’s PC candidate Sarah Stewart-Clark said Underhay was a friend before they ran against each other.
Even during the campaign, Stewart-Clark said the two remained supportive of each other.
“Over the last few weeks Josh and I frequently ran into each other on the campaign trail. A smile, a hug, a conversation was always our response,” wrote Stewart-Clark. “On Thursday, I came home from campaigning to find a note from Josh on my front door. It had the standard sorry I missed you message, and then a personal note to me. I will always cherish it.”
District 11 Charlottetown-Belvedere PC candidate Ronnie Carragher, who is also the principal at Birchwood Intermediate where Underhay worked, said the school’s staff gathered Saturday to remember their friend.
Carragher recalled that Underhay, a strong advocate for active living, rode his bike to work every day through rain, shine and even snow.
Arriving to school with a helmet and biking gear, Underhay would “retrieve a colourful shirt and tie from the large selection stored in a locker beside his classroom door, all before making a pot of tea to begin his teaching day.”
Staff and visitors would often share a cup of tea with Underhay while chatting about everything from local politics to vegetarian recipes and travelling the world, said Carragher
“Josh was a talented, positive, altruistic, upbeat individual who loved his family and extended family deeply. He worked tirelessly with the desire to make the world better for all of us. A beautiful soul. An infectious spirit.” said Carragher.
The grief was spread across the country, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offering condolences to Underhay’s family.
P.E.I. senator Brian Francis also expressed his sympathies to the family.
“I pray they find peace and comfort during these very difficult times,” he said.
Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan said Underhay’s commitment to his community and province was evident.
“From his participation as a candidate in this campaign, his work to promote active transportation, to his career as a teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School, Josh's contributions to our province will always be remembered,” said MacLauchlan, who also cancelled a cross-province tour scheduled for Monday out of respect.
NDP Leader Joe Byrne said Underhay was committed to making positive change and, after touching many lives in his community, would be deeply missed.
“Words are so often insufficient to express the depth of sadness when we see the hope and promise of two lives dedicated to transforming our world cut short so suddenly,” said Byrne. “So please let us take solace in the relationships around us that give us strength, love and passion for ourselves and for our commitment to make the world a better place.”
P.E.I. PC Leader Dennis King said it was a heart-breaking day for all Islanders.
“It is a reminder of how fragile life is and how often we take it for granted,” said King. “Throughout this campaign, it was evident that Josh entered politics to make a difference for all Islanders. His commitment to shaping future generations was always sincere."