Liberal candidate dies suddenly

Jennifer Pelley
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Chief electoral officer postpones polling day in district

A central Liberal candidate for the upcoming provincial election has died.

Dr. Gerry Tobin, who was running in the district of Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans, was found dead in his house on Junction Road in Grand Falls-Windsor on Monday night.

As is the case with any sudden death, police are investigating the matter and have said the cause of death is due to natural causes. At this time, they are releasing very few details outside of the fact that Dr. Tobin's body will be examined by a medical officer to determine the cause of death.

Gerry Tobin (centre), Liberal candidate for Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans, was found dead in his home on Monday night. He is shown here with Gerry Reid (right), leader of the provincial Liberal Party, and Gerald Hurley, former mayor of Badger.

A central Liberal candidate for the upcoming provincial election has died.

Dr. Gerry Tobin, who was running in the district of Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans, was found dead in his house on Junction Road in Grand Falls-Windsor on Monday night.

As is the case with any sudden death, police are investigating the matter and have said the cause of death is due to natural causes. At this time, they are releasing very few details outside of the fact that Dr. Tobin's body will be examined by a medical officer to determine the cause of death.

Dr. Tobin's death means that the voters of Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans will not be going to the polls on Oct. 9 as expected. Susan Sullivan, PC candidate for the district, has halted her campaign until further notice out of respect for Dr. Tobin.

Adrienne Baird, public relations specialist for the chief electoral officer, said the returning officer will open nominations again for the Liberal and NDP parties for that district to give them an opportunity to put names forward.

However, Ms. Sullivan will remain the Tory candidate and will not have to go through the nomination process again.

According to the Elections Act, the day fixed for nominations shall be no more than 30 days and no less than 20 days after the death of the candidate. Then, polling day for the election of a person under this section would be no later than 10 days after the close of nominations.

"So we're looking at a maximum of 40 days (from Tuesday) until the election for that district and a minimum of 30 days," said Ms. Baird.

POLITICAL POTENTIAL

In his bid to be the next MHA for Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans, Dr. Tobin led an issues-based campaign, focusing particularly on post-secondary improvements in central, feeling that the PC government has all but ignored this part of the province. He wanted to see a full slate of second-year course offerings at the Grand Falls-Windsor campus as part of an evolution to ultimately have a degree-granting institution in the town.

When Anna Thistle, who has held the seat for the former district of Grand Falls-Buchans for the past 12 years, walked into Dr. Tobin's headquarters in Grand Falls-Windsor at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, the first thing she noticed were three boxes filled with about 5,000 brochures that Dr. Tobin was gearing up to send out to the people of the district.

It hit her that those brochures were never going to be sent.

Ms. Thistle said she first saw Dr. Tobin's political potential when he ran against her in the 2003 election under the NDP banner.

"He was very clever," she said. "In fact, what surprised me the most was he was so sharp when it came to issues. Usually you have to try to get somebody up to date on the issues - what's going on around the district and around the province - but he was a keener. He knew all about the issues within the district and around the province.

"He had a real sharp interest in and a great passion for politics, and of course for people and the province in general."

Ms. Thistle has been heavily involved with Dr. Tobin's campaign. When she first heard the news Monday night, she was in Deer Lake campaigning for Dwight Ball. She returned to Grand Falls-Windsor Tuesday morning and went immediately to Dr. Tobin's headquarters, where many of his team had gathered.

"The atmosphere there was sombre," she said. "It seemed like people needed to go somewhere to talk and express their feelings. It's something you never think you'll have to even think about, let alone deal with."

Gerry Reid, leader of the provincial Liberal Party, first heard of Dr. Tobin's death while he was campaigning in Marystown on Monday night. He had been planning to campaign with Dr. Tobin the following day, but instead halted his campaign and held a private meeting with a number of the Liberal candidate's supporters at his headquarters in Grand Falls-Windsor Tuesday evening.

"He was an excellent candidate," said Mr. Reid. "From the minute that he won the nomination, he was in touch with me on a daily basis. He brought a knowledge of the labour movement that we were lacking and as a result he was instrumental in drafting some of the policies that we have in our red book."

The Liberal leader added that Dr. Tobin helped the party analyze the memorandum of understanding on the Tories' Hebron deal and was a fountain of information when it came to post-secondary education in the province.

For the past 15 years, Dr. Tobin has been instructing chemistry at the College of the North Atlantic at the Grand Falls-Windsor and Gander campuses.

Geoff Kelly, campus administrator at the Grand Falls-Windsor campus, said students and staff are in a state of shock.

Mr. Kelly said Dr. Tobin will be remembered for his teaching style.

"He really instilled in his students a sense of self-discovery and a work ethic," he said. "He was very young when he got a PhD and that's not an easy thing to come by, and he tried to instill that perseverance in his students.

"It was that quality of education that was really paramount to him."

The college cancelled all classes on Tuesday and had counsellors available for staff that day. On Wednesday, counsellors remained on campus for both staff and students, and the college will be holding grief sessions again next week after the shock has been absorbed more fully.

"People are really having trouble accepting it," said Mr. Kelly. "It's almost surreal. It's really quiet here today."

LABOUR MOVEMENT

Dr. Tobin was also active with the labour movement across the province, serving as a delegate on the Central District Labour Council for the past number of years. He represented about 800 post-secondary faculty members throughout the province on the board of directors of the Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), the province's largest union and was recently elected as NAPE's alternate central vice-president.

Kathy Oake, president of the district labour council, spoke with Dr. Tobin before he declared his candidacy. She said he recognized that Newfoundland and Labrador is a 'have' province and that serious policy changes needed to be made for the people and for the workers.

"He wanted a hand in those changes," she said. "That was one of the driving forces behind his bid. He wanted a serious hand in policy changes for the government of Newfoundland and Labrador for the benefit of all people of the province.

Dr. Tobin's funeral will be held in St. John's where he is from on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 10 a.m. from St. Teresa's Church.

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, NDP, Tory Liberal Party Central District Labour Council Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Junction Road, Deer Lake Marystown Newfoundland and Labrador Gander St. John's Teresa

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