Prince Edward Island voters head to the polls Monday, capping a four-week provincial election that saw allegations surrounding a defunct immigration program rattle what was an otherwise listless campaign.
About a week after the legislature dissolved, Premier Robert Ghiz quickly found his Liberal government the subject of criticism after three former employees of the province’s immigration nominee program alleged the initiative was marred by bribery.
One worker said she saw senior provincial officials accept cash that she believes was intended to fast-track immigration applications from China.
Mr. Ghiz dismissed the claims as “over the top” accusations made by “disgruntled employees.” But the allegations have been forwarded to the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP, and the Mounties are considering whether to proceed with an investigation into the immigration program, which was shut down in 2008.
The Liberal party also released two e-mails one of the employees sent to Innovation Minister Allan Campbell in an apparent effort to undermine her credibility. In one of the e-mails, the employee said she would go to the Globe and Mail and federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney if she did not get another job with the government.
Mr. Ghiz, Mr. Campbell and party officials say they don’t know who provided the e-mails to the Liberals. But the province’s privacy commissioner is investigating.
“It certainly set the Liberals off their message track and threw them a bit of a curve,” said Peter McKenna, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island.
But while the controversy provided days of fodder for the Opposition Conservatives, Prof. McKenna said he believes it didn’t gain much traction for them because much of the public is tired of the issue.
“In some ways, the front page article by the Globe and Mail may very well have hurt the Conservatives as opposed to helping them. ... People kind of saw that as outside and unwanted interference in the campaign.”
On the last day of campaigning, Mr. Ghiz described the entire affair as a “blip.”
Both Mr. Ghiz and Tory Leader Olive Crane did not campaign Sunday, as is the custom in P.E.I.
Ms. Crane reiterated that the immigration program was a major issue for her party, as is health care and jobs, as she campaigned door-to-door in her rural district of Morell-Mermaid.
She said she felt she ran a strong campaign, despite polls that suggest she has a steep hill to climb to unseat Mr. Ghiz.
The Conservatives came into the election holding just two of the legislature’s 27 seats.
Mr. Ghiz is seeking a second term in power. His Liberals held 24 seats at dissolution.
Both the Liberals and Conservatives waited until the last week to deliver full policy platforms.
The Liberal platform includes boosting access to post-secondary education, recruitment of doctors and nurses, and efforts to find new markets for Island exports. The party estimates its promises would cost about $25-million annually.
The Conservatives are promising whistleblower legislation, cash for university graduates who stay to work on the Island, and a two per cent cut in the provincial sales tax. They say their platform would cost about $60-million a year.