This evening, the Progressive Conservative Party of Prince Edward Island hopes to put to rest 10 years of leadership turmoil. Finally.
Ever since former premier Pat Binns stepped down to become ambassador to Ireland following the Liberal landslide in May 2007, it seems the party has been pre-occupied and convulsed with the leadership question.
Tonight, either Stratford-Kinlock MLA James Aylward or Rustico-Emerald MLA Brad Trivers will emerge as the new leader. The two MLAs worked hard over the summer for votes and new members. They took part in four spirited leadership forums, presenting clear contrasts in vision and policy.
All votes will be cast before the gavel brings tonight’s leadership convention to order. It really isn’t a convention, but a leadership selection because most voting was done through mail-in ballots and advance polls held across the Island. The last one was Tuesday in Charlottetown.
Tomorrow, the new leader will address delegates at the party’s annual meeting, hoping to energize members in advance of the looming fall session of the legislature and outline a two-year path to victory in 2019.
After this weekend, there should be no acrimony; no lingering doubts or questions; and no rural vs. urban divide. There should be unity, party peace and a common goal. At long last.
The target will be Premier Wade MacLauchlan and wresting power from the three-term Liberal government - rocked Thursday by the sudden and unexpected departure of cabinet heavyweight Doug Currie.
Some observers have called the Tory leadership race boring because only two sitting MLAs threw their hat into the ring. There is an easy response. If this race is boring, then what would you call the last Liberal leadership convention which was the coronation of Wade MacLauchlan as leader and premier-designate?
There is no question the PC party could have benefitted with a fresh face or two in the race. The prospect of an ‘outsider,’ with new ideas and perspectives, would add excitement and intrigue. They had their chance and took a pass. Early front-runner Sidney MacEwen also stepped aside, leaving the field open for freshman Trivers or sophomore Aylward – both young and keen to take on the role of leader.
It will be a welcome change to see an opinion poll conducted with a permanent leader at the helm of the PC party. There is no question the party was hurt when voters were questioned about which leader they prefer and the Tory option was usually an interim leader.
Delegates will casts vote Saturday on races for most executive members, including three candidates for president.
It’s taken a long time to heal divisions and wounds within the party, largely the fallout from leadership issues. The battle between the urban, backroom boys against the party’s rural base has largely faded away.
In terms of the popular vote, the party finished narrowly behind the Liberals in 2015. The future prospects for the party haven’t looked so promising in more than 10 years. It’s fun being a Progressive Conservative again.