Logo of the Progressive Conservative Party on P.E.I.
The saying, “caught between a rock and a hard place,” comes to mind these days when discussing the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I.
First came a thrashing in the fall 2011 election, which was followed the next year by a bitter mixture of infighting over party leadership. Throw in an upstart new political face from the NDP, a dash of disappointing public opinion polls and now a high-profile defection to the governing Liberals and, well, Toryville is Bluesville these days.
While everyone agrees on the ingredients for the current state of Conservative affairs, finding the correct bread crumbs to follow to get out of the woods is problematic in that it pits cautious PC chess players against those who prefer playing the faster game of checkers.
The checker players are sick and tired of the party’s standing in the polls, and who can blame them.
In the February 2013 CRA poll, the PCs had 16 per cent of the popular vote compared to 26 for the NDP. In June of this year, the PCs stood at 22 per cent vs. the NDP’s 21 per cent. But last month’s CRA poll again had the NDP ahead of the PCs (32 per cent to 23 per cent).
By the way, those numbers are for the second- and third-place parties. The Liberals always polled number 1 in popularity.
Those are humbling numbers for Island Tories to swallow. After all, we are talking about one of P.E.I.’s two natural governing parties.
Leonard Cusack, the author of an upcoming book on the P.E.I. Progressive Conservative Party entitled “A Party for Progress”, says the party’s roots go back to the early 1790s. It was formally organized into the Conservative Party between 1851 and 1853 and through its rich history there have been 15 Tory premiers, with a number of those premiers serving multiple terms. So Conservatives aren’t used to battling it out in the polls for second-place with New Democrats.
Given the spate of negative happenings, some PC supporters would prefer the party find a permanent leader as soon as possible. That line of thinking assumes the party will continue to lag in the polls as long as it is led by an interim leader. Checker players worry that a few more poor public opinion polls will launch the party on an irreversible slide in terms of the next election.
They want a shakeup. But there’s a big problem with an immediate shakeup — no one is dropping hints they want the Tory mantle these days. It looks like the captain’s job on the Titanic. That could be because the party is so dysfunctional or, to be fair, perhaps aspiring candidates think it’s too early to show their hand.
The next provincial election is scheduled for the fall of 2015, that’s two years away. With the next federal election also scheduled around that time, it’s expected the Ghiz government will push the date of the next provincial vote ahead to the spring of 2016, which is two and a half years from now. The other option would be holding the election in the spring of 2015, a year and a half from now and just a few months after the back-slapping 2014 celebrations.
The chess players among the Tories look at both potential election dates (spring 2015 or spring 2016) as the reason the party needs to proceed cautiously, as frustrating as that may be. They fear rushing into a leadership campaign simply for the sake of changing the name on the leader’s door will accomplish nothing.
The chess players are correct in urging caution, but the go-slow route presents a challenge for the party in terms of growing its base and maintaining enthusiasm. There’s no magic switch the party can flick in a year or two to win the support of Islanders. Nothing magic, that is, outside of at some point in the coming months holding a leadership convention, picking a new leader and rallying behind that person.
Right now, in spite of the fact that support for the government has taken a hit in recent polls, the best thing the Liberals have going for them is the provincial Tories, a party filled with supporters who don’t know whether they want to play checkers or chess.
-Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Twitter.com/GaryGuardian.