Capital Beat column
This time last week, Hal Perry was on the front benches of the Progressive Conservative Party.
He was Opposition House Leader and considered a possible candidate when the party chooses a new leader – likely sometime next year. Now he is a Liberal backbencher. The surprise announcement came at a hastily called news conference by Premier Robert Ghiz. Surrounded by the entire Liberal caucus, he welcomed their newest member, smiling from ear to ear.
Political defections are a rarity in Island politics. On the rare occasions when an MLA does leave his party, he or she usually sits as an independent.
Perhaps one of the most high profile was Allison Ellis – a Liberal cabinet minister who left over planned cuts to Community Hospital. Although he later joined the Progressive Conservative party, he never ran under their banner.
It is worthy of note that is not the case on the federal scene. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was a Liberal for a brief period in his youth. New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair was a Liberal cabinet minister in Quebec and former Liberal Leader Bob Rae was the first New Democrat premier in Ontario.
In P.E.I., where political roots run deep, Perry could pay a high political price for his decision when Tignish-Palmer Road voters go to the polls in 2015.
That being the case, it is a sure bet it isn’t a decision he made lightly. That was evident as tears welled up on several occasions during his speech.
The freshman MLA maintains his former party is not fighting changes to employment insurance strongly enough due to the fact they are being implemented by their federal political cousins. This is despite the fact the provincial party has recently asked the media to refer to them as Progressive Conservatives in what seems to be an attempt to distance themselves from the Harper government.
He also mentioned what he called the disorganization within the party. He was a major player in that confusion following the departure of Olive Crane as party leader and Opposition leader. For a few days, Perry was the leader of the Opposition while Georgetown-St. Peters MLA Steven Myers was interim party leader. Perry later decided to resign the legislative job and Myers took on both roles.
In addition to the change in the provincial political scene, it has to be worrisome for Egmont MP Gail Shea. If Perry is getting an earful about the changes, imagine how much Shea is hearing. Don’t forget, she also represents all of Perry’s constituents in Ottawa and she was at the cabinet table when the changes were made.
She will face those same voters a few months before Perry in 2015. Perhaps some of them will ask something like, “If Hal felt strong enough to cross the floor and it is not even a provincial issue, why did you tow the party line?”
She might want to start rehearsing a good explanation now.