P.E.I. could see snap election in spring

Finance Minister Wes Sheridan says Conservatives should get permanent leader

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on November 20, 2014
Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Steven Myers makes his way to Province House with PC MLA Colin LaVie.
Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

Prince Edward Island may be going to the polls as early as next spring, so the Progressive Conservatives should get themselves a permanent leader, says Finance Minister Wes Sheridan.

Sheridan was commenting on a motion tabled Tuesday in the legislature by Deputy Premier George Webster asking all MLAs to accept and recognize the authority of the lieutenant-governor to dissolve the legislature outside of the province’s fixed election date.

Sheridan says the purpose of this motion is to make sure all political parties know an election could come at any time, and they should be ready.

“Our Liberal party now is leaderless, just like the Conservative party has been for the past 2 1/2 years, and we want to give them warning, it’s time. In case a new (Liberal) leader wants to call an election right away,” Sheridan said.

“We’re saying to the other parties, get your house in order.”

Premier Robert Ghiz announced last week he plans to resign early in the new year. The Liberal party of P.E.I. is now planning a leadership convention, likely in February.

Ghiz’s successor as Liberal party leader will become the next premier, and remain so until the next election is called.

But since the general population of P.E.I. will not have elected this premier, he or she may feel compelled to call an election right away, Sheridan said.

That means the next provincial election could come as early as March 2015.

But the Progressive Conservative party doesn’t hold its leadership convention until May 30, 2015. Party president Peter McQuaid told The Guardian last week there are no plans to move this date forward, regardless of Ghiz’s resignation.

“They’ve had two-and-a-half years to get ready, we’ve had five days. We can do ours in February and they don’t think it’s necessary,” Sheridan said.

“No one wants to be surprised by an election call.”

Webster, who tabled the motion, said he wanted to spark a discussion and raise awareness that an early election is a very real possibility. He, too, took a shot at the PC party for going so long without a permanent leader.

“The Conservative party, for at least two years now, has had an interim leader, which is by a choice that they have made, but I do believe that governing parties should have true leaders,” Webster said.

If the next Liberal leader keeps to the fixed election date, he or she could remain an unelected premier until as late as April 2016, which could be problematic, Webster said.

That’s why Ghiz’s replacement “should not be encumbered in any way” from calling a snap election, Webster said.

He acknowledged any premier could go to the lieutenant-governor at any time and dissolve the government, forcing an election.

His motion proposes no change to this, but rather, is meant to make the public, and the political parties, aware of it through discussion in the legislature.

But Opposition Leader Steven Myers says the motion looks to him like a vote of non-confidence.

“If it passes, it will show that the members of this legislative assembly no longer have confidence in themselves to be a government,” Myers said.

He called the motion “full of silliness” and believes it is meant to distract from what he characterized as a state of disarray on the government side of the house since Ghiz’s surprise resignation last week.