EDITORIAL: Two candidates and holding

Published on August 2, 2017

Brad Trivers and Rita MacDonald share a hug during Trivers' leadership announcement in early June. A crowd of 100 people attended the event where Trivers shared his thoughts on his “back to basics” campaign slogan and what that means for the PC party.

©©Maureen Coulter/The Guardian file photo

Time is quickly running out for candidates planning to enter the leadership race for the Progressive Conservative Party of Prince Edward Island.  

The path to victory lies through this October’s ballot process. Strangely, that path is eerily quiet.
Most indicators suggest the new leader would have a solid shot at becoming premier in 2019’s provincial election. The current Liberal government is midway through its third term, the usual maximum awarded by Islanders to any government, no matter how popular or successful.
The thirst for change, and the accumulation of inevitable baggage, usually overcomes any government after three terms. For Islanders to reward a party with four straight mandates is almost unheard of, although this is only the first term for Premier Wade MacLauchlan. Robert Ghiz led the party to landslide wins in 2007 and 2011 while Mr. MacLauchlan was the newly-crowned leader in 2015’s May election when he saved the Liberals with a reduced but still solid majority.
The government’s once huge lead in the public opinion polls has plummeted, although that erosion seems to have leveled off. Premier MacLauchlan not only trails his own party in poll numbers but also Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker in terms of personal popularity.
The government has been hammered with e-gaming and PNP controversies and did itself no favours by fumbling education and health files.
The time appears ripe for the government to fall. So, the question remains: Why aren’t there more candidates in the PC race? Many political pundits expected the Tories to draw five, six, seven or more candidates. We have two, and no rumblings for any others to join the fray.
As expected, the provincial race was quiet until after the federal leadership convention but that was over two months ago. Sitting MLAs Brad Trivers and James Aylward are certainly strong and attractive candidates. They might have scared off some hopefuls who were eying a run.
Even the decision by Sidney MacEwen - long considered as an early favourite - not to enter the race, failed to stir up interest.
Mr. Aylward and Mr. Trivers have been busy working the summer strawberry socials, community fairs and entertainment venues, signing up new members and seeking support and endorsements. They have a crucial head start on any latecomers who would now face an uphill climb.
A potential candidate would also look at the two-year wait until the next election. The pay for an unelected party leader isn’t an attraction – it would likely mean a cut in pay. The party is at fault for not offering the new leader a more attractive compensation package.
It’s been a disappointing result for the PC search committee who tried its best to get more candidates to run. There are no women, no minorities and no fresh faces to bring added interest and a renewed energy to the race.
When Conservative supporters gather in Brudenell on October 20, a lingering question remains – will there be two candidates or is there a surprise waiting quietly in the wings?