The Prince Edward Island(PEI) election May 4 will see all four main party leaders facing their first election campaign. The leader of the ruling Liberals, Wade MacLauchlan, has been leader for only two months.
The former leader, Robert Ghiz, announced he would be stepping down last November. He was replaced by MacLauchlan, a former president of the University of Prince Edward Island, in February of this year. Just a few days later, the Liberal government faced problems. The former Liberal government was embroiled in a scandal involving a failed plan to earn millions in revenue through the regulation of on-line gambling. After MacLauchlan replaced Ghiz, he introduced conflict-of-interest reforms to improve government accountability and transparency. There had also been a three-year investigation into fraud allegations concerning an immigrant investor program. No charges were laid but MacLauchlan was faced with a battle to restore the tarnished Liberal brand. He has also instructed the provincial auditor to examine the conduct of former elected officials and staff with respect to their role in the internet gaming plan that was scrapped back in February 2012.The new Conservative leader Rob Lantz tried to stress the accountability issue early in his campaign but has seemingly let off on the pressure, perhaps because he fears a backlash from a negative campaign. Lantz is also a new leader, who was a Charlottetown city councillor, until chosen as leader of the Conservatives in February. The Conservatives have suffered from fights within their own party. In October 2013, Olive Crane, the former leader was ousted from the caucus altogether after she was forced to resign in late 2012.PEI voters have long elected one or the other of the two main parties, the Liberals and Conservatives. Often victories are very lopsided. At dissolution, the Liberals held 20 seats, the Conservatives just 3 with one independent, and 3 seats vacant. Third parties have had a difficult time turning what votes they do get into seats. Recent polls can be seen at this site. A poll on April 23 shows the Liberals with 44 per cent support among decided voters. The Conservatives have 35, with the New Democratic Party at 15 and Green Party 6. Other recent polls put the Conservative vote lower but there has been a trend towards closing the gap between the two main parties. Both NDP leader Mike Redmond and Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker are credited by some commentators as running solid campaigns and doing well in debates with the main party leaders. Only one third party candidate has ever been elected to the PEI legislature, an NDP candidate in 1996 and just for one term.PEI faces an ageing population and few opportunities for young people. The economy is an important issue in the campaign. The Liberals claim that the province must find new partners to grow the traditional farming and fishing industries upon which the economy depends but also needs to develop new sectors such as bioscience and aerospace. The Conservatives have stressed development of infrastructure, pledging $50 million over five years to improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure to create jobs. While the polls indicate that the Liberals may be returned to power it could be with a reduced majority and a larger group of opposition members probably all Conservatives.