The voters in Charlottetown-Parkdale are going to the polls in 23 days to choose a replacement for Doug Currie, who quit as their MLA barely two weeks ago.
There are some who think the election call was too soon. There could be a number of reasons for Premier MacLauchlan to act as quickly as he did. Some politicos would argue that byelections usually go against the government, so it’s best to get them over with as soon as possible.
Others argue a quick call is smart because it doesn’t give the opposition time to organize. But, usually that would only work if the government had a star candidate in the wings which, this time, it didn’t.
If there’s a star candidate, it’s the Conservative’s Melissa Hilton. She’s a 12-year veteran of Charlottetown municipal politics and was uncontested in her bid for the nomination.
The Liberal candidate also comes from Charlottetown’s city council. Bob Doiron is in his first term on council and won his nomination against Marcia Carroll, who many had expected to win.
Both city councillors are residents of Sherwood, but, neither live in the riding.
However, Hannah Bell does. She won the Green Party nomination and she lives in Parkdale. The Greens pose the biggest threat to both the old-line parties. In the last provincial election they got over 19 per cent and won three of the polls.
The NDP are running party leader Mike Redmond, who lives in the Montague area. His challenge will be to get more than the 11 per cent the NDP got in 2015.
Charlottetown-Parkdale appears to be up for grabs. While individuals in the riding may have some concerns, there are no pressing local issues or political problems. For instance, none of its schools were under the threat of closure.
Byelections tend to be tests of the individual candidate’s local popularity. They’re also a referendum on the leadership of the party. Not to disparage either Chris Palmer, who was elected in a byelection in Summerside last fall, or Mr. Doiron, but one of the tests of political leadership is the ability to attract high level, quality candidates and Wade MacLauchlan can’t seem to do that.
The byelection is an important test for the Premier. But, it’s even more important for James Aylward, the newly elected leader of the Conservatives. And it’s also significant for Green Party leader, Peter Bevan-Baker.
This will be Mr. Aylward’s first electoral foray as leader. The Tories generally feel they have the wind at their back, they see the Liberals, halfway through their third term in government, as being listless and devoid of enthusiasm. If the Tories were to lose this byelection it would put a real damper on their perceived momentum.
Mr. Bevan-Baker, who has proven to be an extremely effective politician, will also be tested. Since his election in 2015, polling has consistently shown him to be the most popular political leader in the province, by a wide margin. The September CRA poll showed him 11 points ahead of the Premier, and 24 points more popular than the interim Conservative leader.
If Mr. Bevan-Baker can’t translate that popularity into electoral success, or at least get a significant gain in the votes cast, then the bloom will come off his rose. Both, the Conservatives and the Liberals hope he does well, but not too well. Their best chance of success lies in the Greens taking votes that would normally go to their traditional enemy.
This byelection won’t change the government, or even significantly alter the standings in the legislature. The worry for the Liberals and Tories is that, with nothing much to lose, the majority of voters in Charlottetown-Parkdale will say, ‘a pox on both your houses’ and mark their ballot for the Greens.
And that could be a game changer.
- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org