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Premier Robert Ghiz tells reporters at a Thursday news conference that Tignish-Palmer Road MLA Hal Perry will be joining the Liberal caucus.
Tignish-Palmer Road MLA leaves Tories for Liberals
CHARLOTTETOWN – The Prince Edward Island political landscape had its feet cut out from under it Thursday as Tignish-Palmer Road MLA Hal Perry announced he was crossing the floor of the legislature.
It started with a surprise press release from Premier Ghiz’s office in the morning. He was going to make an announcement and media was invited.
Widespread speculation ensued – but few guessed at what news was to follow.
While his defection from the Progressive Conservative party to the Liberals came as a surprise for many, Perry told the Journal Pioneer later in the day that those who know him best were aware of his discontent with his now former colleagues.
“It’s something I’ve been debating for quite some time now. I’ve been struggling with this issue,” said Perry.
He went on to say that what finally convinced him to leave the PCs was the fact that the party was uninterested in challenging the federal Conservative Party of Canada, on their changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) program. Changes that make it more difficult for seasonal workers to get EI benefits.
He told reporters that he’s heard so much from his constituents on this issue; he simply could not stay quiet about it – which is what he claims he was told to do by the PCs.
“I had to voice my opinion, and my opinion was being restricted,” said Perry.
Having a provincial PC party challenge their federal cousins in the Conservative Party of Canada on various issues is not uncommon; Newfoundland and Labrador’s ruling PC party has had a combative relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper for years, and New Brunswick PC Premier David Alward has spoken out against the recent EI changes.
However, there was no interest from his own party to do the same, said Perry.
“That wasn’t happening here, there’s too much of an alignment between the provincial PCs and the ‘capital c’ Conservatives. They didn’t want to ruffle any feathers,” he said.
He added that he was elected to represent Islanders in the provincial legislature and not to tow the party line of the federal sister party.
Those feelings would also appear to cross into the realm of his new party.
When asked if the popularity of new federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau played any part in his decision, Perry dismissed the idea.
“This is the problem, especially with the former party I was involved with. We were progressive conservatives and we represented politics here on P.E.I. Yes, there is an affiliation with the federal conservatives, but we shouldn’t have been aligning ourselves with them on every decision and on every issue. We were obligated to fight for what is right and in the interest of all Islanders. So the federal Liberal leadership had no barring (on my decision) whatsoever,” he said.
When pressed, he added that Trudeau’s leadership was “refreshing,” and “exciting.”
Meanwhile, Perry’s defection is the latest in a long line of political setbacks that have befallen Island PCs this year.
In December, 2012, then PC Leader Olive Crane announce she was stepping down after months of infighting and revolt in her caucus. During her resignation speech she took shots at both the federal Conservative Party and some within her own ranks.
This paved the way for Perry to be elected Opposition leader by the PC caucus, but he lost a vote to become party leader to fellow MLA Steven Myers.
This confusing state of affairs didn’t last long, as Perry stepped down shortly thereafter, paving the way for Myers to take both titles.
Myers said on Thursday that he was blindsided by Perry’s defection; only finding out about it five minutes before it happened.
“This certainly is a surprise to us, it’s a surprise to me, it’s a surprise to our caucus,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it happened and we’ll have to move on.”
He also denied the suggestion that he was stymieing Perry’s ability to speak out on the EI issue.
Crane, a close friend of Perry’s, said she was saddened to see him go. She also reaffirmed her own support for the party.
“Today for me personally is very sad for many different reasons, but I am committed to continue to work as Progressive Conservative MLA for Morell-Mermaid.”
What happens now?
What will happen to Perry now is uncertain; both he and Premier Ghiz have denied that there were any deals struck to secure his joining the Liberals.
“Anybody who knows me – who truly knows me – knows that I would never have an ask like that. My only ask was that they would give me the support needed to help the people, communities and industries in my district. Now I have those resources available. I have a caucus that’s a very cohesive team and that will listen to my concerns. I see hope here,” said Perry.
In the end, the decision was his and the consequences will be on him, he added, whether that means he’ll be re-elected as a Liberal or not.
“I had to go with a party that provided hope for my area … now I have a voice, I can speak out on this issue.”
He ended with a fairly strong statement – one that his constituents will almost certainly hold him to.
“I will prove to the people in my district that this move was in their best interest.”