As New Brunswick voters get ready for the pitter-patter of politicians on their doorstep, P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz will likely be watching the campaign closely.
When they went to the polls in 2010, New Brunswickers denied Shawn Graham a second mandate—the first time that happened in the province’s history. Now, David Alward is hoping to avoid becoming the second premier to meet that fate.
Earlier this year, Nova Scotia voters turfed first-term premier Darrell Dexter and relegated the governing NDP to third place. If Alward were to suffer the same fate—the early polls are suggesting a tight campaign—it would have to give Ghiz pause to see a change of government in our two closest neighbours. Add a change of government earlier this year in Quebec, and the fact the incumbent government in Newfoundland and Labrador is without a permanent leader and in serious trouble and it looks like a tough time to be running for re-election.
The premier can certainly take some solace in what happened in Ontario, where Kathleen Wynne was able to convert a minority government into a majority. While the Liberals have been in office since 2003, Wynne is a fresh face and has worked hard to distance herself from her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty.
However, one has to be careful in making interprovincial comparisons. All politics is local, and there are some factors in P.E.I. that are not present on the other side of Confederation Bridge—the most important being the fact the Conservative opposition on the Island is without a permanent leader, or any candidates for leader for that matter.
With the next election probably in the spring in 2016 (unless the federal election is held earlier) there is still time for the Conservatives to get into election readiness. However, they have to set the process in motion soon. In the meantime, the New Democratic Party has done a good job keeping its profile despite the lack of MLAs and they could be poised for a long awaited breakthrough.
Jobs and the economy are the major issues in New Brunswick and that is likely to be mirrored in P.E.I. While there have been some successes, there has also been some setbacks—the most recent being the loss of 121 jobs at the McCain plant in Borden-Carleton. Cavendish Farms is also threatening to leave if the moratorium on deep water wells for potato production is not lifted.
That leaves the government in a lose-lose situation. Lifting the moratorium would carry a high political price and the Liberals were planning on putting it off until after the next election by developing a new water act. On the other hand, the loss of the 600 plus jobs and millions of dollars should Cavendish Farms leave wouldn’t exactly be a vote-getter either.
Incumbent governments often take a major political hit when the economy goes south—regardless of where one sits on the issue of the moratorium or whether Cavendish Farms is trying to blackmail the government, there is no question their disappearance would be a major economic blow and would likely force many Islanders to head west.
Andy Walker is an Island-based writer and commentator.