Time for the leadership race to start

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Since Charlottetown councillor Rob Lantz reaffirmed his decision not to seek a third term in this November’s municipal election, speculation has been building he has his eye on the provincial Tory leadership.

Keep in mind Lantz indicated four years ago he was self-imposing a limit of two terms on council. That was well before the job of Conservative leader was up for the grabs. Certainly, nobody would even be surprised if he had changed his mind – that happens to politicians facing the end of their careers all the time.

It remains to be seen whether Lantz is interested in the Progressive Conservative leadership, but the party could certainly use him. It has been over a year and a half since Olive Crane ceased being leader and the party is no closer now to choosing a permanent leader than it was then. There are no candidates and no convention date.

The intervening time period has been one of the worst in the party’s history. There have been three opposition leaders (Crane, Hal Perry and Steve Myers), two party leaders (Crane and Myers), a defection (Perry) and a banishment (Crane).  It is fair to say they have set a new low for political infighting in the province.

All this means the new leader will face the uphill task of first uniting party members and then convincing the electorate they are ready to accept the task of governing the province. The party has been working to convince potential candidates, but so far there have been no takers. Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee announced he was re-offering for his current position earlier than planned to stop speculation he was going for the leadership. The party has also gone outside traditional political circles, asking former NHL coach Doug MacLean and Compass host Bruce Rainnie, but they too said no.

Realistically, the earliest a convention can now be held is next spring. If the federal government goes to the polls as planned next October that would give the new leader the better part of a year to get into election readiness. If the feds go earlier, the provincial election would be next October, cutting the preparation time in half.

Both the Liberals and New Democrats have already started nominating candidates, so the new leader would also be behind the proverbial eight ball in terms of organization.  The party has regained some experience at the helm with Peter McQuaid (who was principal secretary to Pat Binns when he was premier) taking over the job of party president.

The first job for McQuaid and the executive now must be to set a convention date and hope that will move candidates to the starting line. They need a contest, rather than a coronation, to give the new leader a taste of life in the political trenches. While they do need a fresh face, the last thing the party needs is someone untested politically.

Andy Walker is a P.E.I.-based writer and commentator.

Organizations: NHL

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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