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Residents of the rural Nova Scotia provincial electoral district of Pictou West are gearing up for a byelection on Tuesday, following the surprise retirement of the legislature’s Speaker, Karla MacFarlane, who held the riding since 2013. Premier Tim Houston quickly called the byelection for May 21, just over two weeks after MacFarlane announced her decision. The riding, which includes the town of Pictou, had strongly supported the Progressive Conservatives in the 2021 general election, with MacFarlane receiving nearly 64 per cent of the vote. Political scientist Lori Turnbull believes the speed of the premier’s call indicates the Tories’ confidence in the riding, where they are running newcomer Marco MacLeod, who operates a small custom lumber mill on his family farm and is focused on connecting with voters through traditional methods like door-to-door canvassing.

In addition to Marco MacLeod of the Progressive Conservatives, the other candidates vying for the Pictou West seat are Liberal Mary Wooldridge-Elliott, NDP’s Melinda MacKenzie, and Green Party candidate Clare Brett. Wooldridge-Elliott, a school bus driver and member of Pictou County council, and MacKenzie, a school teacher and town council member, believe their experience at the local level makes them strong contenders for the seat. The candidates have been addressing issues such as the state of the province’s healthcare system and the cost of living, with Brett emphasizing the importance of food, shelter, and providing voters with an alternative to the major parties. Despite the competitive field, observers expect the riding to remain with the Progressive Conservatives, who currently hold a majority in the legislature.

The candidates have been engaging with voters on key issues such as healthcare and cost of living, with Wooldridge-Elliott and MacKenzie highlighting their local government experience as a valuable asset in addressing these concerns. Wooldridge-Elliott believes she can bring insights from her time as a municipal councillor to the provincial level, while MacKenzie emphasizes the importance of bridging the gap between municipal and provincial issues. Brett, a singer-songwriter and caregiver originally from B.C., decided to run for the Greens in order to offer voters an alternative to the major parties. The main concerns raised by voters during the campaign revolve around healthcare and the affordability of food and shelter, reflecting the challenges faced by residents in the riding.

Despite the competitive field and the range of issues being discussed by the candidates, political observers believe that the Progressive Conservatives are likely to retain the seat in Pictou West. The governing Tories are running a newcomer to politics, Marco MacLeod, who has been diligently reaching out to voters through traditional means like door-to-door conversations. With the Tories holding 32 seats in the 55-seat legislature, the outcome of the byelection is not expected to significantly impact the government’s majority. The byelection, scheduled just over a year before a provincial election must be called, will provide an indication of the government’s strength but is not expected to prompt an early election. Overall, the race in Pictou West highlights the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the candidates, as well as the key issues facing residents in the riding.

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