All eyes turn to tiny P.E.I. as electoral reform put to voters

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Tiny Prince Edward Island has a chance to send a big message to the rest of the country about electoral reform when voters are asked to consider proportional representation in a referendum as early as this spring.

Voters in British Columbia rejected making such a change in December, and while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to abolish the first-past-the-post federal voting system during the 2015 election, he later abandoned the plan, saying Canadians were not eager for change.

Now, advocates hope Canada’s smallest province will lead the way.

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“We were really counting on British Columbia. This was really devastating for our cause,” said Real Lavergne, president of Fair Vote Canada, a group that promotes proportional representation.

“We thought if a referendum was ever going to win, the conditions were good for that referendum to win. In the end, voters voted more along partisan lines,” he said.

Information sessions are now being held across P.E.I. to educate the public on the pros and cons of switching from the current first-past-the-post system to a mixed member proportional voting system.

The P.E.I. vote will be binding.

READ MORE: Proportional Representation for Dummies

But this isn’t the first time P.E.I. voters have been asked to consider electoral reform.

In fact, they voted 52 per cent in favour of switching to mixed member proportional reform during a plebiscite in 2016, but Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan rejected the results because of a low turnout of about 36 per cent.

“I think turnout will be much higher this time because the referendum is being held in conjunction with the next provincial general election. We usually get election turnout around 80 per cent,” said referendum commissioner Gerard Mitchell.

“This is a great exercise in direct democracy for the people. So they should vote and be informed what their choices are,” he said.

In 2016, voters were given five choices, but this time it will simply be a chance to vote “yes” or “no” to the question “Should Prince Edward Island change its voting system to a mixed member proportional voting system?”

A “No” vote would see no change in the way members are chosen for the 27 seats in the legislature, while a “yes” vote would see 18 members chosen in redrawn electoral districts and nine others chosen in province-wide ballots.

WATCH: Proportional representation defeated in referendum






Mitchell said under such a system, people would get two votes.

“One for district MLA and the other would be for the party list candidate. The party list is used to top-up the seats of those parties who did not get enough seats at the district level to reflect their share of the popular vote.”

About 90 countries, including New Zealand, Germany and parts of Scotland use such a system.

Lavergne said it has been difficult to convince Canadians to make the change because most politicians feel secure with the status quo.

“The interest of politicians is always for the first-past-the-post system because whoever is in power got elected by first-past-the-post. MLAs look at it and say maybe I wouldn’t be re-elected if we changed the system,” he said.

Still, he expects Quebec’s new CAQ government, which campaigned in part on the issue, will adopt a mixed member proportional system in the next year or so.

Don Desserud, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island, said many Islanders didn’t pay any attention to the last plebiscite until the government decided not to accept the results.

“That’s a question of trust in government, integrity and worrying whether governments are serious when they make these promises to have a vote and respect the results,” Desserud said.

READ MORE: Referendum defeat dooms reformers’ hopes for foreseeable future

Lavergne said switching from the first-past-the-post system would give third parties a greater chance of winning seats, and would allow the results to better reflect the way people actually voted.

“In Ontario you have a majority government that was elected with about 41 per cent of the vote. People have to ask themselves if they are really comfortable with that,” he said.

No date has been set for the P.E.I. election, but Mitchell said the general wisdom is that it will be held this spring, and the referendum will be ready to go.

Desserud said he believes it could be as early as May.

“The last election was May 4 in 2015, so four years from that would be a reasonable time to call an election and won’t look like an early election or an opportunistic election. I expect there will be an election in May or early June,” he said.

The Island government could wait until the fall, but most expect it to go early to avoid any conflict with the federal election in October.

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‘The best is yet to come’ says new P.E.I. PC leader Dennis King

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Dennis King has won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. on the second ballot.

At the leadership convention at the Eastlink Centre Saturday afternoon, a total of 4,222 votes were cast, eight of which were spoiled.

Shawn Driscoll received the lowest number of votes at 307 and was dropped from the first ballot. 4,136 voters made a second choice on the ballot, meaning the winner needed a total of 2,069 votes. 

When votes were recalculated and the votes for Driscoll redistributed among the remaining four candidates, King came out on top with 2,071. Allan Dale received 803, Kevin Arsenault 661, and Sarah Stewart-Clark received 601. 

King shakes former leader James Aylward’s hand after his win, as the other seven MLAs look on. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

‘We don’t have time to rest’

In his victory speech, King said he was overwhelmed and humbled by the win. 

« What a testament to the renewal and the vigour of our party, » King said, noting the large number of party members who voted in the leadership. 

King hugs his wife Jana Hemphill after he won the Tory leadership Saturday in Charlottetown. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

An election is looming, he said, and it is the party’s job to come together to focus on that. 

Maybe I haven’t been elected before, but I’ve been around.— Dennis King

« I’m the first one to tell you I need your help, » King said, inviting the other candidates to join him on the stage. 

« We have momentum, we need to build on that momentum, » he said, promising to meet soon with the party executive to arrange an ambitious schedule for district nominations and policy forums across the province. 

The five candidates for the PC leadership, from left to right, Dennis King, Allan Dale, Kevin Arsenault, Shawn Driscoll and Sarah Stewart-Clark. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

« The best is yet to come, » he said. « We’re alive baby and we’re coming to get you, here we go! »

He also called former leader James Aylward a « pillar of strength » and promised that « he’s going to be a big man in this next government. »

‘Somewhat organized’

A spring election seems imminent, King said, and organizing the party for that is his priority, he said in an interview with CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin. 

King said his caucus, behind him, is ‘full of strong personalities and strong opinions.’ (Brian McInnis/CBC)

Dennis King supporters react after he won the PC leadership in Charlottetown Saturday. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

« We are somewhat organized, we have some districts that are ready to go. I hope to be able to be in a position to release them as early as the middle of next week, » King said.  

King said he will seek to win a seat in the legislature in District 15: Brackley-Hunter River, where he lives, but said he will not take for granted that he will win just because he is the party’s leader.

« I’ll have some work to do, » he said. « I feel like I’m up for the job but it is a daunting task. »  

Dennis King speaks with Louise Martin shortly after having won the PC leadership. 9:37

Many of the candidates put forward ideas in their leadership bids that King said would make good planks of a party platform for the election. A successful platform will also include jobs and the economy, health care system improvements, and « figuring out some of these challenging land and water issues, » he said.

He said his leadership style will be to empower other people to put forth their ideas for change. He said his caucus of eight is « a great foundation to build upon, » and is « full of strong personalities and strong opinions. » He said he won’t be « barking orders » at them but will seek their opinions. 

Even though he has never been elected, King noted he has plenty of political experience and is skilled in knowing how to work with people who have strong opinions.

Dennis King waves to supporters after his speech at the leadership convention at the Eastlink Centre Saturday. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

« Maybe I haven’t been elected before, but I’ve been around. » 

King served as director of communications for the last PC premier of P.E.I., Pat Binns.

‘Just a boy from Georgetown Royalty’

King was first of the candidates to speak at the convention, describing himself as man of the people — « just a boy from Georgetown Royalty » — with values learned growing up in rural P.E.I. 

‘Today is about our future,’ said new PC leader Dennis King. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

« My name may be King but I don’t believe in political coronations, » King said. He’s said he proud of the campaign he and the four other leadership candidates mounted and predicted they would leave the convention united, promising there’s « room under a Dennis King tent » for his opponents. 

« I want to lead with kindness, with compassion, » King said, concluding, « I’m with you, I want you to be with me. »

Record number of votes cast

Online voting began Feb. 1. For the first time for an Island political party, all of the ballots are being cast electronically.

Angus Birt of Charlottetown, left, registers at the 2019 PC leadership convention Saturday in Charlottetown. At right is volunteer Ruth Sudsbury. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

Lifelong Tory supporters Imelda Callaghan, left, and Mary McKinnon, were the first delegates to take their seats Saturday morning during the convention. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

‘We owe James a debt of gratitude on a number of fronts,’ says PC Party President Michael Drake, as part of tribute to outgoing leader James Aylward. ‘He was ready at all times to go.’ (Brian McInnis/CBC)

This leadership race saw more votes cast than in any previous P.E.I. PC leadership convention. 

Voting was being done using a preferential ballot. That means party members ranked candidates on their ballot in order of preference.

‘Prouder than ever’

Prior to the candidate speeches, the outgoing leader said his goodbyes.

« Thank you from the bottom of my heart, » said Aylward, who choked up during his upbeat farewell speech. « I’m prouder than ever to be a Progressive Conservative. »

Outgoing leader James Aylward gives a farewell speech at the leadership convention. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

Aylward thanked his seven fellow caucus members for their « friendship and support. » He said stepping down was not an easy decision.

« Getting a little tired of being in Opposition, » Aylward said, adding he sees the « winds of change happening » to bring the PCs to power in the next election.

Aylward was chosen to lead the party at its last leadership convention in Oct. 2017, but announced less than a year later he would step down, saying he had « not been able to make a strong enough connection with Islanders. » However Aylward is staying on as an MLA and said he intends to run in the next election.

Jim Gorman, left, of South Melville, with Hilton MacLennan and his wife Marlene MacLennan, share a laugh while they wait for the 2019 Tory leadership convention to get underway in Charlottetown Saturday. Hilton MacLennan is the nominated PC candidate for Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

Election looming

King doesn’t currently hold a seat in the provincial legislature — but may not have to wait long for a chance to win one.

A provincial election is expected as early as this spring.

Party volunteers Charlene Duffy, left, Sadie MacKenzie and Sylvia Poirier work at one of the registration tables for Saturday’s PC convention. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

« They don’t have much time, the new leader in the party, to get out there and meet Islanders and make a positive impression … to get themselves known and connect with the voting public, » said UPEI political science professor Peter McKenna.

« That’s going to be a challenge for them. »

The provincial cabinet set the wheels in motion for an early election by designating Feb. 1 as the start of P.E.I.’s referendum period, giving government eight months from that date to hold an election.

Islanders will vote in a referendum on changing their electoral system along with the next election.

King said he plans to vote for the Mixed Member Proportional system of voting in the election-day referendum. 

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3 former civil servants file $1.8M suit against former P.E.I. premier, government agency over privacy breach

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Three former government employees who raised concerns about P.E.I.’s provincial nominee program in 2011 have filed a lawsuit against former premier Robert Ghiz, a provincial Crown corporation and others.

A statement of claim was filed in P.E.I. Supreme Court Thursday on behalf of Susan Holmes, Cora Plourd Nicholson and Svetlana Tenetko.

The three women, who call themselves whistleblowers, are seeking $1.8 million in damages plus a further undisclosed amount representing loss of income and out-of-pocket expenses in the aftermath of a privacy breach.

A report from P.E.I.’s privacy commissioner released in Dec. 2017 concluded government was either directly or indirectly responsible for a privacy breach where personal information about the three women was leaked to the P.E.I. Liberal Party during the 2011 election campaign.

Also named in the suit, besides Ghiz and the provincial Crown lending agency Island Investment Development Inc., are former innovation minister Allan Campbell, former deputy minister of innovation Michael Mayne and a lawyer involved with the Liberal Party, Spencer Campbell. 

When reached Thursday afternoon, former premier Robert Ghiz said he had no comment as the issue is before the courts. CBC has not yet been able to reach the other individual defendants.

Susan Holmes is shown at her home in Moncton, N.B., in January 2018. She has said she won’t fade away without being compensated for the economic and emotional toll on her life. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)

Personal information leaked to Liberal Party

The three women, who had all worked for the provincial government, made national headlines in September 2011 with allegations of bribery and fraud within P.E.I.’s provincial nominee program.

Later the same day, the Liberal Party of P.E.I. issued a media release that included personal information about the three women, including work histories, details about a human rights complaint and personal emails.

Spencer Campbell, speaking for the Liberal Party at the time, said the information had been leaked to the party and he didn’t know where it came from.

« The Liberal Party is not subject to the information and protection of privacy legislation in this province, » Campbell said at the time.

6-year investigation concluded breach happened

After an investigation that took six years, P.E.I.’s Privacy Commissioner Karen Rose concluded the information had come from government.

Rose said one of two things happened: either, « someone within Economic Development and/or the Premier’s Office and/or Executive Council … deliberately disclosed the personal information to the Liberal Party of PEI, » or, she said, an unknown third party deliberately disclosed the information because those three government bodies « failed to make reasonable security arrangements to prevent unauthorized disclosure to the Liberal Party of PEI. »

In either case, the commissioner concluded a breach of the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act occurred.

In their statement of claim, the three litigants say Ghiz, Mayne, Allan Campbell and others « conspired with each other and with [Spencer] Campbell and the P.E.I. Liberal Party by knowingly and unlawfully publicly disclosing private information … with the predominant purpose of harming the plaintiffs. »

Allegations not proven in court

They say the defendants acted « with a common design, to injure, embarrass, intimidate and promote bias against the plaintiffs » and should have known « their acts would, in fact, cause harm to the plaintiffs. »

Holmes, Plourd Nicholson and Tenetko say they suffered depression, mental anxiety, loss of income and costs of « moving and uprooting their lives. »

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Investigations by RCMP and border services into the women’s allegations regarding the PNP did not result in any charges.

A spokesperson for the province told CBC News the government is reviewing the statement of claim and referred to the statement provided by current Premier Wade MacLauchlan when the privacy commissioner released her report in 2017.

That statement noted the privacy breach occurred « under the previous government, and the key players involved are not a part of the current administration.

« This is something that would not have been, and will not be, tolerated under this current government, » the statement read. « We do business differently. »

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How a P.E.I. woman delivered her baby with the help of a 911 dispatcher

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Santana Courtney always thought that she would give birth to her first baby in a hospital surrounded by doctors.

Instead, she ended up delivering her baby in the bathroom of her home with a 911 dispatcher helping over the phone.

Courtney was expected to go into labour on Oct. 23 last year. When it still hadn’t happened a week later, she went to the hospital to have her labour induced.

Doctors told her it could still take a few days so Courtney went back to her home in New Perth, P.E.I. But it was only a few hours later that Courtney started to have contractions. 

« I didn’t realize they were contractions because he’s my first kid and what people told me was different from how my body was, » Courtney said. 

About an hour later, Courtney’s contractions became so intense she started to push. She made her way into the bathroom and had the father call labour and delivery services.

They told the soon-to-be parents to call 911 immediately.

‘It was really intense’

They were connected with Vicky Blacquiere, a communications officer with Medacom Atlantic. Once Blacquiere assessed the situation, she quickly realized paramedics wouldn’t make it in time to bring Courtney to the hospital.

Blacquiere was on speaker phone. The father said the baby’s head had started to show.

« It was really intense but it was great, » said Blacquiere.

Medacom Atlantic communications officer Vicky Blacquiere says the phone call with Courtney was the first time she had to help deliver a baby. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Over the next few minutes, Blacquiere guided the parents through the rest of the delivery using EMS protocol. 

« Honestly, the couple was amazing, » she said.

‘I was just in shock’

It was only about five minutes later that Courtney’s son, Cameron, was born.

« I was just in shock. I wasn’t saying too much. I just kept looking at him down on the floor like, ‘Oh my goodness,' » said Courtney.

« [The father] just ripped off his shoelace and tied it with that and I just waited there until the paramedics came » – Santana Courtney

But the work wasn’t over quite yet. Courtney and Cameron were still attached by the umbilical cord. Blacquiere told the parents they would need to find a string to tie the cord.

« I didn’t say anything and [the father] just ripped off his shoelace and tied it with that and I just waited there until the paramedics came, » Courtney said.

First complete phone delivery for Medacom Atlantic

It was the first time Blacquiere had helped deliver a baby and the first time Medacom Atlantic had coached a delivery from start to finish over the phone. 

« For me it was amazing. As soon as I heard that baby cry it was like a flush of relief, » Blacquiere said.

Courtney says doctors had attempted to induce labour at the hospital earlier in the day. She was back at home when she started to have contractions. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

« The baby was healthy and breathing. It was just a sigh of relief. »

Paramedics eventually arrived and cut the cord. They took Courtney and the baby to the hospital where he was given a clean bill of health. 

Meeting for the first time

Last Friday, Courtney and Cameron visited the Medacom Atlantic office to meet Blacquiere for the first time. Cameron was given a teddy-bear and a onesie to mark the occasion. Courtney was given a copy of the transcript of her 911 call. 

« That felt good. Felt like … a piece of the missing puzzle was there, » said Courtney.

Courtney brought Cameron to the Medacom Atlantic office on Friday so they could finally meet Blacquiere in person. Cameron was given a onesie and teddy bear to mark the occasion. (Submitted by Santana Courtney)

​The new mom said she’s excited for when Cameron is old enough to hear about the day he was born. For Blacquiere, the call is something she’ll never forget.

« We deal with everything from motor vehicle accidents and cardiac arrests. For me the baby birth made my day. [It] makes this job worthwhile. »

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P.E.I. hires long-awaited child advocate

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P.E.I. has announced it will create a child advocate position, becoming the last province in Canada to do so.

The announcement was made Friday by Premier Wade MacLauchlan in Charlottetown.

Island children deserve an independent non-partisan advocate … that is not what the premier is providing.— Peter Bevan-Baker

Michele Dorsey was named the children’s commissioner and advocate, effective Jan. 1, 2019. She’ll work through a new government entity, the Office for Children and Youth. 

« The new children’s commissioner and advocate and the Office for Children and Youth is a significant cross-governmental undertaking to build a bright, healthy, prosperous future for young Islanders, » said MacLauchlan in a written release.

The Office for Children and Youth will be responsible for championing the rights of children, ensuring the voice of children and youth are represented in policy and programs, supporting families navigating programs and services and more, the release said.

« A focused government-community approach to children’s healthy development will support healthier and safer environments for Island families, » said Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy. 

Recommended following inquest

The initial recommendation for P.E.I. to have a child advocate came from the jury at the inquest looking into the murder-suicide of four-year-old Nash Campbell and his mother Patricia Hennessey.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan made the announcement at Chances Family Centre in Charlottetown.

The two died in a vehicle fire near Tignish on June 21, 2013. Hennessey lost custody of her son the day before.

In his report stemming from that inquest, P.E.I.’s chief coroner of the day Dr. Desmond Colohan recommended the province « assess the need for such a position and consider the best way to meet the intent » of the jury’s recommendation for a child advocate.

Government’s initial position, defended time and again in the face of repeated criticism from opposition parties, was that the province could protect children without creating the position.

The province unveiled a new « hub model » to get various government agencies to work more closely and share information to better protect children at risk. It also created a position for a lawyer to represent children involved in contentious custody disputes.

Motion voted down in 2016

In April 2016 Liberal MLAs voted down a motion introduced by the PCs to create a child advocate.

« We’ve got the official guardian, the family law centre, we’re considering the establishment of a children’s lawyer, we have a hub model of four departments, the chief health officer is in place, » Premier Wade MacLauchlan said at the time. « What is in place is in the fullest sense delivering the service that would be provided by a child advocate. »

A year later, after his government tabled its first balanced budget, the premier said he might be willing to reconsider.

P.E.I. had been the only province in Canada without a child advocate, but after Doug Ford became the premier of Ontario his government announced it would cut its position for a child and youth advocate.

The P.E.I. government created a position for a child and youth services commissioner in 2010 but the position was quietly eliminated in 2015. At the time government said the position was dropped « as part of an effort to move as many resources as possible to the front line. »

‘Hugely disappointing’

Friday, Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker called Dorsey’s appointment « hugely disappointing, especially with respect to the authority and independence of the position, and the hiring process used to fill it, » he said in a written release.

The position is not actually a child advocate as the term is understood in other jurisdictions, he argued in the release.

« Island children deserve an independent non-partisan advocate — an advocate whose authority is set out in legislation, who is hired through an open merit-based process, and who can act independently of government interference, » Bevan-Baker said. « That is not what the premier is providing. »

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‘So thankful’: SD card found on P.E.I. contains Sask. couple’s honeymoon in the Maritimes

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After losing a camera card full of photos of their honeymoon to the Maritimes more than two years ago, a couple in Saskatchewan will soon be able to relive their trip once again.

Heather Simonson, of Kerrobert, Sask., got married to her husband, James, in June of 2016 and the pair took to the Maritimes for a honeymoon of hiking, travelling and fine dining by the sea. 

After touring Nova Scotia, the couple skipped over to have a taste of Island life, taking photos along the way. But while in Summerside, they needed a new camera card to capture the last leg of their journey.

« We had picked up a new SD card at Walmart because our SD card became full, » Simonson said. So they popped out the old one and slotted in the fresh card.

And the old one?

« I asked my husband ‘Do you want me to hang onto that card?' » she laughed. « Because he’s known to be Mister Forgetful so he’s like ‘Oh no, I’ve got it.' »

‘I’m just so thankful that we’re gonna have these photos back,’ Simonson says. This is another photo from their they trip that wasn’t lost. (Submitted by Heather Simonson)

As it turned out, the card disappeared.

« We don’t exactly know how we lost it. We were staying in Summerside at the time when we realized we had lost it, » she said.

« We searched through our suitcases, we called the hotel we’d been staying at and we’d emptied out all our pockets and purses and we just searched high and low and couldn’t find it so we thought we’d lost it for good. »

Most of the lost photos were of their trip in Nova Scotia to Peggy’s Cove and around Cape Breton as well as a chunk of their P.E.I. trip to O’Leary, West Point, Summerside and around Prince County.

‘We were praying that we’d be able to find it’

Simonson said the pair was disappointed that the card was lost but thankful they at least had the photos from half their trip. They figured the card would be lost for good, but tried anything they could to get it back.

« We do believe in the power of prayer so we were praying that we’d be able to find it, or somehow it would get returned to us, » she said.

Most of the lost photos were of their trip in Nova Scotia as well as a chunk of their time on P.E.I. This is another photo they didn’t lose. (Submitted by Heather Simonson)

And it would be, as another visitor to the Island, from northern-eastern New Brunswick, found it.

Lucie Mallet, of Le Goulet, N.B., and her boyfriend were on P.E.I. shortly after Simonson was two years ago, she told CBC News in a French interview. 

She found the card while they were walking in the parking lot of a tourist spot, although she couldn’t remember which particular place. 

Mallet took the card home and put it in her computer. When she saw the photos of the young couple she knew they would want the photos back. So she took to Facebook, posting a photo of Simonson and her husband, saying she found it.

She had little hope, she said, but thought she’d give it a shot. Two years later it wound up working out.​

‘I started crying, I was pretty happy’

Just this week, after two years, Simonson thought she’d try once again to track down her lost photos, reaching out to several P.E.I. Facebook groups. 

Within the same day, a commentor on one of her posts helped track down Mallet’s Facebook post from two years prior — showing a picture of Simonson and her husband smiling.

« I started crying, I was pretty happy, » she said, seeing Mallet’s post of the newlyweds.

« She speaks French so we were only able to converse a little bit. »

We’re going to have to order in some lobster or something.— Heather Simonson

And now the family is having a « big celebration, » she said, as their SD card packed with honeymoon photos is on its way in the mail.

« We’re going to have to order in some lobster or something, » she laughed. « I’m just so thankful that we’re gonna have these photos back. It’s pretty special to have these back in our hands that’s for sure. »

In French, Mallet said by making Simonson happy, it made her happy.

Simonson said she wanted to return the favour somehow, but Mallet said she didn’t want anything because the true gift for her was seeing how happy she made the couple.

And Mallet hopes that if it ever happens to someone else, they do the same thing she did.

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