Prince Edward Island’s premier has a sizable majority government, a political pedigree to lean on and an opposition that, aside from its leader, is full of neophytes.
Still, Robert Ghiz says he’s not taking anything for granted in his bid to get re-elected next month.
“Like any election campaign, we’ll go in fighting like we’re five points down,” Mr. Ghiz said in an interview. He is expected to visit the provincial lieutenant-governor Tuesday to kick-start an election scheduled for Oct. 3.
The Liberal leader is hoping to win a second straight majority, which would build on a family dynasty in Island politics that began with his father Joe, who served two terms as the province’s premier from 1986 to 1993.
At 37, Mr. Ghiz is Canada’s youngest premier. But he has nearly a decade of political experience behind him, having been first elected to the legislature in 2003.
He became premier in 2007, leading the Liberals from four seats to 23 in the 27-member legislature.
Mr. Ghiz said his province has weathered the global recession as a result of provincial stimulus packages and efforts to diversify the economy from its traditional industries of agriculture, fisheries and tourism – touting his government’s embrace of the biosciences sector as one example.
But the province of 144,000 is staring at some dismal economic numbers.
It has the country’s second highest unemployment rate at 11.6 per cent. It is projecting a $42-million deficit this fiscal year and its net debt is expected to climb to $1.8-billion by March — about $12,500 for every man, woman and child in the province.
Mr. Ghiz, who has promised to deliver a balanced budget by 2013-14, said his government has made fiscal progress after freezing every budget except those of health and education.
“We’ve been able to reduce … our deficit and actually exceed our deficit numbers over the last three years,” he said.
The Conservatives don’t enter the campaign on a strong footing. Olive Crane, the party’s leader, is its only incumbent heading into the election.
“I just don’t see any area where Olive Crane can make significant inroads,” said Peter McKenna, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island.
“The wheels would have to come off of the Liberal campaign bus, and would basically have to go off the cliff in order for the Progressive Conservatives to prevail on Oct. 3.
“There’s some speculation, which may very well materialize in early October, that it could be 27-0.”
Ms. Crane, first elected in a by-election in 2006, brushes aside such talk.
“It really is Islanders rather than political pundits, and especially people from out of province, that get to decide who they want to govern the province,” she said.
“It will be decided on the doorsteps of each Islander. It’s very much going to be a grassroots campaign.”
Ms. Crane said her party will focus on job creation, equal treatment for urban and rural areas, and health care.
“This administration, for example, promised a doctor for every Islander, and they didn’t live up to that promise,” she said. “We have a huge wait for people trying to get family physicians.”
Ms. Crane announced her first campaign promise last week – a home heating oil subsidy for 30,000 low-income households that she says would cost $15-million. She said it could be paid for by eliminating government waste.
Mr. McKenna said Mr. Ghiz doesn’t have to make any grand promises to get re-elected because he doesn’t have to contend with the taint of scandal nor a torrent of public protest.
“It’s not that Robert Ghiz has overwhelmed people here. He’s just run a fairly steady ship and there’s been no major issues around corruption and malfeasance, so I don’t see any reason why Islanders would want any fundamental change.”
At dissolution, there were 24 Liberals, two Conservatives and one vacancy.
Mr. McKenna said the New Democrats and the newly formed Island Party could garner a small percentage of votes, but he doesn’t expect it will be enough to affect the outcome in any constituencies.
The Canadian Press