The Prince Edward Island political scene – both provincially and municipally - continues to see seismic shifts with recent announcements concerning retiring incumbents and declared candidates. It will be interesting to see how connected these two issues might become in the weeks ahead. With municipalities going to the polls Nov. 5 and a provincial election expected sooner than later, the list of names entering and exiting the political stage continues to raise lots of speculation and comment.
One of the more interesting dynamics concerns Stratford Mayor David Dunphy, who announced last week he won’t re-offer for a third term. His decision leaves a huge void in civic politics – both in the town and province. During his eight years as mayor, Stratford saw unprecedented growth and earned the well-deserved slogan of P.E.I.’s fastest-growing town. On a provincial level, Mayor Dunphy was also a key supporter of the federation of municipalities.
There seemed to be few, if any, major disagreements on Stratford council, as mayor and councillors excelled at consensus government in getting things done. The decision on closing down the lagoon and pumping sewage across to Charlottetown probably resulted in the widest differences of opinion.
Mr. Dunphy won by acclamation for a second term as mayor in 2014 and there were no candidates seeking to challenge him in November. Several current members of council, such as deputy mayor Randy Cooper, may step forward to accept the challenge.
Mr. Dunphy hasn’t ruled out another run for provincial politics. He took a leave of absence as mayor during the 2015 provincial election campaign for an unsuccessful attempt to unseat current Progressive Conservative Leader James Aylward.
Because of the town’s vigorous growth, Stratford has earned a second seat in the revised electoral map for the next election – Mermaid-Stratford. This new district joins a largely urban Stratford-Keppoch to give the town more clout in the legislature. The second seat presents Mr. Dunphy with options. He can avoid Mr. Aylward and run in the new seat, or he could take on the role of potential giant killer and face the PC leader again.
The mayor encountered criticism in 2015 about taking a leave of absence from council to run for the Liberals in the provincial election. It likely hurt him in two ways: Some voters wanted his steady hand to remain on council; while others saw the leave of absence as a lack of commitment to the provincial district.
Those issues are now resolved - Mr. Dunphy is making a clean break with civic politics this fall. But if he chooses to run in Mermaid-Stratford, things won’t be much easier, as community activist Mary Ellen McInnis is seeking the PC nomination. She lost in 2015 on a coin flip to then-incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Alan McIsaac.
In an interview with The Guardian following his announcement last week, Mr. Dunphy expressed a love for politics – the job, the people, media, colleagues, challenges etc. He certainly didn’t sound like someone preparing to step away from politics or public life.