What direction are P.E.I. voters looking?

Gary MacDougall gmacdougall@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 21, 2015

Try as he might, Premier Wade MacLauchlan is having a hard time controlling the agenda in P.E.I. politics.

Give him credit, he's been proactive in trying to. He has travelled across the Island seeking opinions, has announced new conflict of interest guidelines for public servants and sought out new ways to grow P.E.I.’s economy.

But, like the Charles Dickens’ character Jacob Marley, he is carrying around some chains and skeletons from his party’s closet. Whether that’s fair or not is of no consequence when it comes to politics - it’s reality.

How he deals with those skeletons, and whether the electorate can distinguish him from his party’s past sins, will decide whether he is elected premier in the spring election.

The ill-fated e-gaming venture will be an election issue. Although it’s unlikely anything of a criminal nature took place, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

It will be Tory gold in the upcoming campaign. Anytime a microphone is turned on, all a Tory supporter has to say, in 10 seconds or less, is something like this:

“What’s the deal with the front page story in Canada’s national newspaper about P.E.I.’s involvement is some crazy e-gaming and gambling initiative? And, what was Treasurer Wes Sheridan doing going to a gambling convention in London, England?”

A Liberal may be able to explain the e-gaming initiative in 15 minutes, but by then the audience will be thinning, or at least the audience’s attention. The damage will have been done.

Another old skeleton never far from the surface is the Provincial Nominee Program.

Alan Rankin is someone who should know about the PNP. He was the clerk of Executive Council under Robert Ghiz from 2007 to 2009. Before that, he worked in the Liberal governments of both Joe Ghiz and Catherine Callbeck. In other words, he was an insider.

In a column in the Eastern Graphic newspaper this week, he alleges abuses occurred with the PNP file in the Pat Binns PC government, and later even more so in the Robert Ghiz administration. Says Rankin: “PNP operated in the shadows, its benefits flowing only to those on a select and much guarded list.”

Although PNP has many boosters who point to how it has attracted new money and people to the province — which it has — it also has an odorous side to it that doesn’t pass the smell test for many in the electorate.

So, honk honk, along with e-gaming, PNP will be along for the ride in the spring election campaign.

In that election, Premier MacLauchlan will talk about the future and the province’s potential. Don’t blame me for the sins of my fathers, he will say. He may even join the chorus of people condemning some of the past shenanigans.

The Tories and their leader, Rob Lantz, along with the other political leaders, will also talk a great deal about the future and P.E.I.’s potential.

But while most of the rhetoric will be about the future, the key to the election’s outcome will be whether the electorate enters the polling booth looking back at past sins, or looking ahead.

Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at gmacdougall@theguardian.pe.ca; or on Twitter.com/GaryGuardian.