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CAPITAL BEAT: Will there still be a fall election?

Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan announces the date for a P.E.I. spring election as he addresses the crowd at his nomination meeting in West Covehead on Monday, April 6, 2015. 
(Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan announces the date for a P.E.I. spring election as he addresses the crowd at his nomination meeting in West Covehead on Monday, April 6, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS) - SaltWire Network

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

As MLAs completed one of the longest sessions in recent memory, the signals still seemed to be mixed on whether there will be a fall election.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan has shown nothing but contempt for the province's fixed election law, as the vote which handed him his current mandate was a year ahead of schedule, so there is no reason to believe he will wait until the scheduled vote next October. Even that date is in dispute since the law requires the election be moved until the spring of 2020 if it conflicts with a federal election.

The Liberals took a major dip in the latest quarterly poll from Corporate Research Associates and that may be leading to some second thoughts on the part of the premier and party organizers. A number of municipalities have also asked if there be no fall vote as it would take attention away from the Island wide municipal vote in November. That would provide the premier with an easy out should he decide to delay the vote.

Back at the annual Liberal meeting this spring, the premier hinted that riding associations should have their candidates ready to go by the end of June. Instead, the process is only starting with the first nominating meeting slated for Souris-Elmira next Tuesday. Both the Progressive Conservatives and the Green Party have more candidates nominated.

On the other hand, the government remained steadfast the act governing the referendum on electoral reform had to be passed during the spring session. The vote is to be held in conjunction with the next provincial election-- if they aren't planning a fall vote, what was the rush?

Then there has been the flurry of good news announcements that traditionally precede a vote – more doctors for Kings County Memorial Hospital following months of frequent shutdowns of the emergency room, more drugs added to the provincial formulary and a revamp of the social assistance payments.

A strong economy tends to favour an incumbent government and, as the premier is fond of pointing out, the province is "on a tear."  The Conference Board of Canada is predicting P.E.I. will be behind only British Columbia in terms of economic growth in 2018. The population is also growing, reaching 153,116 and the government maintains we are on track to reach the 160,000 mark within five years.

With the announcements by both Speaker Buck Watts and Deputy Speaker Kathleen Casey, one third of the 18 people elected in 2015 under the Liberal banner will be gone. That number includes Doug Currie (who resigned abruptly last fall) and Bush Dumville, who now sits as an independent.

Rumours have persisted over the last three years that the premier has been micromanaging his caucus. Losing one third of your team doesn't exactly stifle that speculation. It does offer some claim to renewal as the party will be running 15 new candidates.

Since the boundaries of many ridings have changed significantly due to electoral redistribution, it is doesn't like the Liberals are ready for a fall vote at this point.

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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