The recent debate on fixed elections is once again proving the legislation is full of loopholes and open for interpretation and manipulation.
Late in the legislature’s fall session, Opposition Leader James Aylward asked Premier Wade MacLauchlan to commit to the province’s next fixed election date of Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. To no one’s surprise, Mr. Aylward failed to get that commitment.
The immediate assumption is that the premier is playing politics, but that is only partly true. All he had to say was that he couldn’t commit to that fixed date because it’s likely the federal government is going to the polls the third Monday of October 2019. P.E.I. will have to move and legislation suggests the spring of 2020.
But don’t count on it. The last Liberal government had no hesitation calling a snap election for May 2015 to take advantage of Premier MacLauchlan’s ascension to power.
There are exceptions to the legislation and one is already in play – the conflict with a federal election. The premier declined to say if he preferred to go earlier or later. He wants to keep his options open in the best interests of his re-election hopes.
An early election already has the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation concerned because there won't be enough time for a full debate on a promised referendum question, tied in with the provincial vote.
The premier is portraying himself as the defender of the law. The act allows the lieutenant governor to dissolve the legislature at any time; and to commit to an election date would be in violation of that legislation. Or so the premier would have us believe.
The intent and spirit of the legislation is to stop crass opportunism on election calls for political gain. The premier appears ready to violate both tenets. “If circumstances arise or if the conditions require, in sensible judgment, that the date occur as it’s supposed to then it will,” Premier MacLauchlan said. No one is sure what that means.
Almost lost in that fixed date debate is the hint the premier might go to polls next year. That would certainly skewer coalition plans for a public education campaign on the benefits of PR.
The premier could argue that Mr. Aylward deserves an early chance to test his leadership as the newly elected leader of the PC Party – an argument the Opposition would find hard to criticize.
The premier will want to go to the polls while the province is enjoying an economic boom. He’s on record that he plans to run again which means he feels he has a good chance of winning if he can follow a schedule best suited for government and party.
The premier’s mantra of, “keep building going forward,” sounds like a campaign theme. “There’s a lot more progress to be made and a lot more opportunity ahead,” sounds like the platform is written.
With options and loopholes, fixed election legislation is really just a promise and breaking them is old hat for governments.