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ANDY WALKER: Will new leader help Conservatives turn the corner?

Andy Walker
Andy Walker

Things will be different when the Leader of the Opposition stands up to ask their first question during the fall session of the legislature.

The winner of the race between James Aylward and Brad Trivers will be the first permanent leader of the party to hold a seat since Olive Crane resigned the post in 2012. The party elected Rob Lantz as permanent leader in  February of 2015, but his tenure was short-lived after he lost  his Charlottetown-Brighton seat to Liberal Jordan Brown by just 22 votes in the election held three months later.

Many political observers were surprised the race didn't attract more candidates. Retired Summerside businessman Alan Mulholland was actually the first candidate to declare, but later withdrew. However, the two candidates have what should be considered the prime qualification — they can use the capital letters "M" "L" and "A" after their names. Having a leader without a seat at this point in the proceedings would be a major political blunder — no matter how qualified that individual happened to be.

The new leader, who will be announced at the party's annual meeting in Brudenell on Oct. 20 after several rounds of in-person and mail ballots, will be both party leader and Leader of the Opposition. In theory, any party member can be leader if they win a leadership vote. By contrast, Leader of the Opposition is a legislative post — you have to have those three magic capital letters after your name to hold it.

Borden-Kinkora MLA Jamie Fox has done a good job as interim party leader and Opposition Leader and many were surprised when he decided not to run for the job permanently. He did contest the leadership when Olive Crane won the job. Belfast-Murray River MLA Darlene Compton ran for the job in 2015 and many people thought she would try again, but she too decided to stay on the sidelines.

The party has held three leadership forums to date with another planned for Brudenell in early October. While some differences have appeared between the two candidates, especially when it comes to providing mental health services, obviously they share a lot of similar views.

The new leader will have little time to savor the victory. The fall session of the legislature opens Nov. 14 and the new leader will have to take center stage. They will have to convince Islanders to begin to look at them as a potential premier.

Although the party slipped slightly in the latest quarterly opinion poll, the next election is certainly winnable for the party. The Liberals will be seeking a fourth consecutive mandate (even though it has been under two leaders) and historically that has been hard to get — just ask Keith Milligan or Pat Binns.

The performance of the new leader over the next two years will go a long way  to determining if the party's time in the political wilderness that began in 2007 will end when Islanders vote in May of 2019.

 

Andy Walker is a former reporter for the Journal Pioneer and is now a freelance writer who lives in Cornwall, P.E.I. awalker@islandtelecom.com

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