Predicting the date for the next P.E.I. election will soon become the water-cooler conversation for 2019. Pundits, politicians and just about everyone else scoured through Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s year-end interview with The Guardian looking for a hint.
The focus of the interview was a look back on 2018, but there were also a few comments on what’s to come. The provincial election is the obvious priority for the government. By legislation, it should be this October, but a federal election then will force the Island to move – and the best odds are for this spring.
There were some surprises in the premier’s year-end conversation, such as his picks for the highlight and the low point of 2018. Now, what about the surprise omissions, such as the binding referendum on electoral reform connected to the provincial election?
Admittedly, the referendum has taken a backseat since enabling legislation was approved by the legislature in June 2018. And the decisive defeat of an electoral reform plebiscite by British Columbia voters last month was a crushing blow to the hopes of Island supporters of proportional representation. For Premier MacLauchlan to ignore the topic suggests it’s not a priority for him and that PR won’t find much support among government members.
The other surprise was the premier’s refusal to speculate on an election date. Not even a light-hearted comment that the new leader of the Progressive Conservatives had better hit the ground running after the party’s leadership convention in early February. Long before the May 2015 election, the premier signaled quite clearly that he was calling the vote that spring.
We did learn from the interview that the premier is following polls rather closely. And those polls provide the premier – from his analysis – with some positive numbers. A solid majority of Islanders think the government is doing a satisfactory job or heading in the right direction. Those are numbers the premier likes to talk about, even though his personal popularity is running far behind his party; or that in terms of voter preference, the Liberals are tied statistically with the Greens.
He’s happy going into an election with those poll numbers, and considering that this is a government at the end of its third mandate, it’s remarkable the party is still showing this strongly.
The PCs are going to select a rookie politician as their new leader and there is still doubt that the Greens have a deep enough talent pool to present Islanders with a viable option for government.
The interview portrayed a premier getting into pre-election mode; certainly, one increasingly confident in his chances; and spoiling for a fight with the PCs and Greens. The last election was won on his reputation. This time, the party might be the deciding factor.
It’s a good bet Premier MacLauchlan will meet the legislature in April and present another balanced budget to hammer home his strong economy message – just before an election call. There are a few loose ends in health, especially with family doctors and ER issues that need to be addressed. After that, tighten your seat belts.