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EDITORIAL: A plebiscite on Liberals

Premier Wade MacLauchlan outside the provincial government buildings in Charlottetown Tuesday, a day after leading the Liberals to a third straight majority government.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan outside the provincial government buildings in Charlottetown Tuesday, a day after leading the Liberals to a third straight majority government.

The Liberal Party of P.E.I. leaves little to chance when it comes to winning or holding on to power. It’s one of the reasons why it has won three straight majority governments. With a tough fight expected in the October 2019 provincial election, the party is taking no chances.

The Progressive Conservatives are fresh off a leadership race, which ended amid feelings of peace and goodwill. A united PC party is a threat and the Liberals have signaled they are apprehensive about the rejuvenated Tories.

A less skeptical person might consider it mere coincidence that the day before the Tory convention, Doug Currie grabbed the headlines by resigning as minister of education. That same person might think that Premier Wade MacLauchlan just happened to pick Friday, Oct. 20 at random as the swearing-in date for our new lieutenant governor. The ceremony was guaranteed to steal some of the thunder from the Conservative convention that night.

After first suggesting that the party was in no hurry to call a byelection, the government announced on Tuesday that a party nomination convention is scheduled for this coming Monday. It suggests the government is going to call a byelection sooner than later to test Mr. Aylward’s leadership.

The Liberals obviously had several solid names in mind to make such a bold move. Running for elected office is a major step that requires a lot of thought because of the commitment, sacrifices and money involved. Yet the Liberals had candidates in the field immediately.

It resembled the chain of events in late 2014 when Robert Ghiz announced he was stepping down. The Liberals warned the Opposition that once they selected a new leader, a provincial election was going to follow immediately. The Tories had to move their leadership convention forward several months and candidates – including Mr. Aylward – had to campaign through the dead of winter.

Skip ahead two years and a similar scenario is in play. The obvious goal is to catch the Tories off guard under their new leader. With recent polls favouring the Liberals, it seems the premier would prefer to test the byelection waters sooner than later.

The Liberals can argue that Charlottetown-Parkdale deserves representation in the legislature as soon as possible, and if the byelection call comes Monday, a new member could take her or his seat by the end of November while the fall sitting of the House is still in mid-session.

The Liberal gamble could backfire. If momentum from the PC convention continues going forward and the party wins the Liberal stronghold in Charlottetown-Parkdale, it sends a powerful message for 2019.

It will be an exciting byelection as it offers voters a chance to render judgment on Premier MacLauchlan, past the midway point of his government.

It’s somewhat ironic that a year ago, Islanders were going to the polls in a plebiscite on electoral reform. It might not be a comparison that Liberals want to hear, but this byelection can be considered as a plebiscite or referendum - on this government.

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