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RICK MACLEAN: In P.E.I. politics, timing is everything

Premier Dennis King congratulates Natalie Jameson on winning Monday's District 9 byelection.
Premier Dennis King congratulates Natalie Jameson on winning the District 9 deferred election Monday, July 15, 2019. - Mitch MacDonald

Politics is all about timing.

Wade MacLauchlan is in the right place at the right time and becomes premier of P.E.I. by nodding his head and saying, “OK, I’ll accept the job.”

The Liberal party had been in power for two terms and knew it needed a fresh face to try to squeak out another term, MacLauchlan had a high profile and he lacked political enemies because he hadn’t been in politics. Perfect.

He calls an election and it’s so close the Conservatives foolishly fail to protect their leader’s home riding as he races around the province in a last-minute bid to win the vote. Rob Lantz loses his seat by a handful of households and he’s history.

The door opens and four years later Dennis King goes from delivering punchlines to premier.

And now there’s Progressive Conservative MLA-elect Natalie Jameson.

It’s not enough to be smart, or talented, or a highly motivated quick learner – or all of those. You need to be lucky with your timing. And Jameson was.

The tragic death of the outstanding Green party candidate Josh Underhay and his six-year-old son Oliver forced the postponement of the vote in District 9. All of the political parties behaved admirably in the aftermath. Other parties took down their signs. King waited while the Greens sorted themselves out. Then the vote was called.

"The result was predictable. The voters recognized the obvious, it’s a good idea to have an MLA with a clear path to a quick appointment as a cabinet minister instead of someone sitting on the opposition benches."

But as happens in politics, the world had changed between late April and early July.

In the spring, the Greens were riding a wave of political popularity confirmed by polls that suggested they might even have a chance of winning power. A Green win in District 9, an urban seat with no incumbent, was penciled in on the cheat sheets of many political pundits.

By July, however, the landscape was very different, and the voters knew it.

The Conservatives missed a majority government by just two seats and were in power, with a twist. They’d been shut out in urban P.E.I. and had only one woman among their ranks.

Then the party’s candidate in District 9, Sarah Stewart-Clark, withdrew, saying her family and professional life had been put on hold long enough. Enter Jameson. Perfect timing.

The result was predictable. The voters recognized the obvious, it’s a good idea to have an MLA with a clear path to a quick appointment as a cabinet minister instead of someone sitting on the opposition benches.

It wasn’t even close.

“Jameson leapt to an early lead shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m., gaining 44 per cent of advanced poll votes. The tally put her well ahead of the advance totals from Lavers, who garnered 28 per cent, and Andrew, who earned 26 per cent of the votes,” said the story in this paper describing the result.

“Jameson kept up the lead, winning seven out of 10 polls, and won the election with 43.7 per cent of the vote. Andrew drew 28.7 per cent of the final tally, while Lavers drew 25.7 per cent. The NDP’s Gordon Gay drew 1.9 per cent.”

A hundred words of cold political reality.

Then came this from King: “She has a tremendous skill set. She has many things that you would look for as you go about reconstructing a cabinet. To that, I would say stay tuned.”
What timing.

Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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