Two candidates slated to appear almost identically on Prince Edward Island’s provincial electoral ballot say there is only a small chance voters will see double once the writ is dropped.
In what appears to be a first in recent Canadian provincial politics, just one letter will separate Green Party newcomer Matthew J. MacKay from his Progressive Conservative opponent and namesake, incumbent MLA Matthew MacKay, on PEI’s impending ballot.
A writ is expected to drop any day in PEI. However, neither MacKay is worried about being confused for the other due mostly to the fact they are running in tiny District 20, which has fewer than 4,000 voters.
“Everybody knows Matthew. Everybody knows Matthew J.,” said Matthew J. MacKay, the Green Party candidate.
“If we were in downtown Toronto and the district were [thousands of] people, I could see where there would be confusion … but in our district, everybody pretty well knows everybody. Nobody is going to mistake young Matthew for old Matthew," he said.
Mr. MacKay, the PC candidate and the Matthew most likely to be construed as “young,” said he was “caught off guard” when he learned, several weeks ago, of his almost identically named opponent.
“Rumour got out that there was somebody running with the same name as me,” he said. “The first thing I started thinking was, come election day, how are we going to deal with it?”
Provincial legislation in PEI requires provincial electoral candidates to be listed alphabetically on the ballot, said Tim Garrity, PEI’s chief electoral officer. The legislation does not, however, require candidates to use their full legal names.
“If one of them wanted to go by Matt MacKay, Matt would come before Matthew,” Mr. Garrity said. “But if not, the middle initial would come into play.”
Although he has never before used his middle initial, which stands for “John,” Mr. MacKay, the Green Party candidate, said he was willing to adopt it for his foray into politics in the interest of keeping things “kind, equitable and fair.”
“If they had wanted me to go by ‘Mathew-John-the-old-skinny-guy-who-runs-MacKay,’ I would have done that,” he said, adding: “Matthew is a fine, fine man. I’m willing to do all I can to make sure everyone is happy.”
Although the practice is not common in Canada, U.S. political parties have drawn ire in the past for backing candidates with names identical to popular incumbents. Sometimes called “dummy” candidates, they are often used to confuse voters and split votes.
Lynne Lund, deputy leader of the Green Party of PEI, said the name confusion was not intentional in District 20.
“It’s a surprising situation,” she said. “But we all know how hard it is to get people to [run for office].”
Before announcing her Mr. MacKay’s candidacy, Ms. Lund telephoned the other Mr. MacKay to discuss how he preferred his name to appear on the ballot.
“I acknowledged the absurdity of the situation and told him we would be willing to do whatever we could do to make things clear,” Ms. Lund said.
Mr. MacKay, the PC candidate, pondered switching to “Matt” or adding his middle initial, “G,” to campaign materials. Both changes would have put him ahead of Mr. MacKay, the Green candidate, on the ballot.
But in the end he decided to simply stick with what he – and apparently everyone else – knows.
“Everybody knows me as Matthew MacKay,” he said. “You know practically everybody here by the first name anyway.”
The last time two identically named federal political candidates ran in the same district was in 2000, when John Williams (Canadian Alliance) took on John Williams (New Democratic Party) in the Alberta riding of St. Albert. Canada’s then-chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, resorted to drawing names from a hat to ensure a fair decision on which candidate would appear first on the ballot.
With a report from Stephanie Chambers