Province to move election to April 2016, leaving audited statements in jeopardy
Federal intransigence has now formally resulted in another electoral break for Premier Robert Ghiz. The Liberal government was set to face the P.E.I. electorate on Oct. 5, 2015, some four years after winning a second majority government on Oct. 3, 2011. The Liberals had swept to power in May, 2007.
The recent trend by the provinces and the federal government, in response to public pressure, was to set firm electoral dates, a progressive move to eliminate the manipulation of election calls to suit polls or opportunism by the party in power. The public had grown tired of the subversion of the electoral process that gave the governing party an unfair advantage because it determined the election call at its own whim.
Of course the set dates would be superseded if a minority government fell on a confidence motion or a budget matter, for example.
P.E.I. decided the fall was either the least obtrusive or most inclusive time to hold an election. In the spring, farmers were busy on the land planting, fishermen were busy on the sea, the school year was winding down and it was just a busy time for many Islanders.
Prior to the last election there was some hesitation to allow the Ghiz government an extra five months over the usual four-year term before facing the people. The government might have gone with a spring election but the federal government fell on a confidence motion and a national election was called for early May 2011. The clincher for the province to switch to the fall was a promise that audited financial statements would be available in advance of the election so the electorate could see what kind of stewards we had looking after the public purse.
All too often before a spring vote, government would brag about the strong financial position of the province only to see massive deficits confirmed shortly after the election was held. The fall vote was to eliminate any such budget charades.
It worked OK or the last election, although the audited statements never came in until approximately a month before the October vote but at least the voters had a good idea about the actual state of the province’s finances.
P.E.I. and several other provinces had their election dates set for the fall of 2015 until Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to shanghai that date for the next federal election, giving itself an extra five months in power over a traditional four-year cycle.
Mr. Harper was not swayed by provincial pleas about the serious conflict and decided to move forward alone, oblivious to the necessity of five or six provincial governments moving their election dates. Ottawa could easily have gone with a late spring vote in 2015 but for reasons not easily discernible, opted not to do so.
So the provinces had to move and P.E.I. had little choice but to either move back six months or ahead five months to avoid a conflict with the federal election. The province decided on the former to give itself another term extension.
During the recent fall sitting, Premier Ghiz confirmed that legislation to fix a date for elections would be changed to push back the election to April 25, 2016. Either way, we likely won’t see any audited statements.
When the premier brings in legislation to affirm the electoral date change in the spring sitting, he should include in the statute that the auditor general expedite financial statements and for the province to provide her with enough resources and enough time to bring in those updates before the April, 2016 vote.