If Premier Wade MacLauchlan is planning to place his re-election hopes largely on the lodestone of a strong P.E.I. economy, the results of last week’s Quebec election should provide pause to rethink that strategy.
Quebec Premier Phillippe Couillard largely campaigned on his government’s economic record - four consecutive balanced budgets and a thriving provincial economy. But, as he announced his pending departure, the defeated premier wondered how voters could have rejected his Liberal party despite a period of “recovery and a historic revival of Quebec.”
Apparently, without much hesitation or second thought.
There are several similarities between the premiers and their parties in P.E.I. and Quebec. For example, both parties enjoyed being in power for extended periods. The Quebec Liberals governed 13 of the last 15 years. On P.E.I., the Liberals have held power for over 11 years.
Each premier is in his first mandate. Couillard was elected premier in 2014 before being defeated by the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ). MacLauchlan was selected Liberal leader and premier in February 2015 and elected that May.
The Quebec economy was vibrant heading into the election while P.E.I.’s economy is also booming – with record-setting population growth, healthy immigration, historic export numbers, thriving primary industries and another balanced budget.
But Premier Couillard found out the thirst for change was too strong. He lost to a new, upstart CAQ party which didn’t even exist seven years ago. On P.E.I., recent polls suggest that the strongest threat to the governing Liberals is the upstart Green party, which is running neck-and-neck with the Liberals.
Going into the 2015 election, Premier MacLauchlan had promised a new way of doing things. That hasn’t materialized although there was a considerable shakeup with new faces on the Liberal team in 2015; and a number of veterans won’t be back in 2019, such as Alan McIsaac, Allen Roach, Buck Watts and Kathleen Casey. Is that new look enough to satisfy voters hungry for change? Or will Islanders look at the party as just more of the same?
Incoming Quebec Premier Francois Legault campaigned on a pledge to support electoral reform and plans to introduce proportional voting legislation in his first year. P.E.I. is headed to a referendum on that very question, connected to the provincial election. The Green party on P.E.I. is an avid supporter of PR.
In one area, Premier MacLauchlan compares favourably with Legault. The incoming Quebec premier is a 61-year-old veteran politician, while Premier MacLauchlan - although two years older – is still a political newcomer.
The challenge for Premier MacLauchlan is to offer a message – apart from good economic news - that will appeal to Islanders. A thirst for change needs a vision that will appeal to new and younger voters. He needs to reinvent himself and his party within six months.
It’s a not a great time for incumbent premiers – just look at Christy Clark in B.C., Brian Gallant in N.B. and Kathleen Wynne in Ont. Voters should be warned that the thirst for change also resulted in the election of Ontario Premier Doug Ford.