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ALAN HOLMAN: Parties need to ensure their leaders win

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, from left, PC Leader Dennis King, Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan and NDP Leader Joe Byrne s chat following Wednesday’s agriculture debate hosted at the Murchison Centre. The debate, hosted by the Federation of Agriculture, saw the party’s offer differing views on how to support the industry.
Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, from left, PC Leader Dennis King, Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan and NDP Leader Joe Byrne. - Mitch MacDonald

At this point, there’s isn’t a front-runner in the provincial election.

Generally speaking, the Liberals seem to have conducted a well-run campaign, with a fairly detailed platform aimed at a broad spectrum of the electorate. The platforms of the opposition parties tend to be more general in scope, or focused on a few specific issues, such as affordable housing and/or job creation.

In 2015, the election of Peter Bevan-Baker, and the defeat of Conservative leader, Rob Lantz, served to underline the importance of the parties getting their leader into the legislature.

It is highly unlikely that the Greens would be as popular as they have been if Bevan-Baker hadn’t been elected. If he had been sniping from the sidelines for the past four years, the Greens would be just another minority party, and treated as such by the media. But with the polling numbers they’ve had in the past year, the Greens are considered a force to be reckoned with.

In 2015, Bevan-Baker faced off against an unpopular Liberal cabinet minister and a Conservative who was almost unknown. He won every poll and posted a thousand vote majority over the Liberal minister, Valerie Docherty.

This time the Tories have a well-known, young businessman, Kris Currie, and they are very confident they can cut into that majority. Some even talk of Currie unseating the Green leader. But that is doubtful. It’s the kind of wishful thinking that comes from the wide-spread belief among both, old-line Liberals and Conservatives, that the Greens’ popularity is ephemeral and will dissipate when the voters get to the ballot box. This has yet to be proven.

The Tories however, having learned from their leader’s 2015 defeat are unlikely to let Dennis King spend too much time traipsing around the province at the expense of his personal campaign in District 15. King is going to have to work hard at getting elected in his home riding. The Liberals have a formidable candidate in Windsor Wight, a school principal. But, Wight, like all Liberal candidates, is running for a party headed by Wade MacLauchlan, who, recent polls show is one the least liked leaders in the race.

In his own riding, MacLauchlan, is another leader who cannot take his re-election for granted. As a novice politician in 2015, MacLauchlan benefited from his success as president of UPEI. He handily won the riding with a 600-vote majority. But, as premier, his reputation has taken a bit of a hit and for the past year or so his polling numbers have been in the mid-20s. Not good. This has many Conservatives, and a few Liberals, thinking that Bloyce Thompson, a successful dairy farmer, could well give the premier run for his money on April 23.

And then there’s the NDP leader Joe Byrne. Byrne is the party leader that most political observers feel has the least chance of winning. He is running in District 12, where his opponents are: Karla Bernard for the Greens, Tim Keizer for the Tories, and the minister of the environment, Richard Brown, the veteran MLA who’s spent nearly 20 years in the House.

As they have done in other ridings, both the Tories and the Liberals, believe that between them the Greens and the NDP will syphon off votes from their opponent and their man will win. The Liberals, while acknowledging Tim Keizer is a credible candidate, believe, that with a little help from their ‘friends’, Brown will slip back in.

While he was soundly beaten in the last federal election, Byrne still got a significant number of votes from his home area, District 12. Though the old-line parties believe that minor party votes could help them win, they’ve never considered the possibility that the reverse could be true. That the Liberals and the Tories could take enough votes from each other, and Byrne, or Bernard, could be the one sneaking up the middle.

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: acholman@bellaliant.net.

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