P.E.I. Premier Dennis King announced Monday night that the province will go to the polls on April 3, just under four years after his Progressive Conservatives were elected.
King told supporters at a nomination meeting in his riding north of Charlottetown that he had visited Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry earlier in the day to dissolve the legislature.
At dissolution, the Conservatives held 15 of the legislature’s 27 seats. The Green Party, led by Peter Bevan-Baker, had eight seats, and the Liberals under Sharon Cameron held four.
The Conservatives won a minority government in 2019, but they have had majority status since a byelection win a year later.
The election comes shortly after King’s government signed a health-care agreement with Ottawa providing $966 million over the next decade, and it will fall six months earlier than called for in the provincial election law.
Anticipating lines of attack from his main opponents, King boasted of his government’s accomplishments in shoring up health care, putting money in Islanders’ pockets and getting more housing built. He entered the room to the song “Unstoppable” by Australian pop singer Sia.
Citing two major post-tropical storms that hammered the province since his election, the COVID-19 pandemic and a potato fungus that halted exports to the United States, King said his team has governed in “the most challenging circumstances in the history of the province.”
“It hasn’t been perfect,” he added. “We haven’t gotten it all right,” but he said that when they made mistakes, they admitted them and corrected course.
Political experts suggest the Progressive Conservatives are in a strong position to win another mandate, as the electorate isn’t in the mood for change and the opposition is seen as weakened.
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Under the province’s Election Act, general elections are supposed to be held every four years on the first Monday in October, which would have made for an Oct. 2 vote. Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, said he sees no compelling reason for King to go to the polls early.
“I don’t see what the concern is, except that maybe they’re just tired of governing and like to have an election and start with a clean slate,” Desserud said in a recent interview, adding that the governing party remains well ahead in the polls.
His colleague in the university’s political science department, Peter McKenna, said there are no signs of disillusionment with the Tory government. “The Liberals are struggling. The Green Party is kind of in a holding pattern,” he said. “I see the outcome of this provincial election as being a foregone conclusion.”
Still, there are a number of key issues facing the province, McKenna said, pointing to health care, inflation, housing shortages and climate change.
King’s government has also faced criticism for its response to post-tropical storm Fiona, which caused widespread damage across the Island in September.
“Did they have a plan? Did they roll things out effectively? Were they good administrators?” Desserud asked. “These are not ideological questions. These are questions based on competence.”
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Earlier in the government’s term, King and his cabinet also had to deal with damage caused by post-tropical storm Dorian in September 2019, and then the fallout from the pandemic, followed by the spread of potato wart disease in 2021, which cost the Island about $50 million in lost revenue.
“I don’t know of any government in recent history … that has had to deal with so many crises in their first term,” Desserud said.
As for the Green Party, he said the party has been on the forefront of social issues, including the Island’s housing shortage. Addressing issues arising from the pandemic or potato wart crisis and connecting them to changes in the climate can help the party, he added.
“This is a big, long-term cultural change and economic change that will be required and has a hard sell in an election campaign. But I think that the Green Party is well situated to make those arguments.”
McKenna suggested the Liberal party seems to have faded under Cameron’s leadership. “It’s no longer a major political force on Prince Edward Island,” he said. By contrast, King seems to have connected with Islanders through his folksy, straight-talking style, Desserud said.
—With files from Hina Alam in Fredericton
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