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PEI Premier Robert Ghiz heads from Fanningbank, the official residence of the lieutenant-governor, in Charlottetown on Sept. 6, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
PEI Premier Robert Ghiz heads from Fanningbank, the official residence of the lieutenant-governor, in Charlottetown on Sept. 6, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)


PEI Liberals have all the momentum as campaign begins Add to ...

With a commanding lead in popular opinion, Robert Ghiz has officially kicked off his quest for a second majority government in Prince Edward Island.

The Liberal Leader entered the campaign Tuesday at the helm of a party enjoying a 28-point lead over the Progressive Conservatives.

“There is a great deal more to be done,” Mr. Ghiz said in prepared remarks. “I look forward to a healthy, democratic debate – and the opportunity for the Liberal Party of Prince Edward Island to vigorously present our proposals to islanders.”

The lopsided popularity means the challenge for the Liberals will be to run a safe campaign that avoids complacency and arrogance, observers say. And the Tories under Olive Crane will have to go for broke to change the current momentum before the Oct. 3 vote.

Ms. Crane, who has been hammering the governing Liberals for years on issues of trust and accountability, began the campaign with a release pledging to audit “wasteful spending” and “be open, honest and transparent to all islanders.”

Tory campaign chair George MacDonald struck a similarly grassroots note. He also found a silver lining in the latest poll, noting that the 41 per cent of respondents who were undecided was a group the party could target to make up ground.

“This election will be fought poll by poll, district by district, vote by vote,” he said. “Islanders will decide the election when they cast their ballots.”

But history is not on the side of Tory hopes. Not since 1935 has a government on the island been turfed from office after only one term.

“Islanders, for whatever reason, are content to let a sitting government have a second kick at the can,” said Peter McKenna, chair of political studies at the University of PEI.

“I think it’s unfair to say it reflects badly on Olive Crane. If Mother Theresa came back from the grave, I think it would be the same. Islanders like to give governments a second chance.”

Mr. Ghiz, whose father served two terms as premier, visited the Lieutenant-Governor late Tuesday afternoon to officially start a campaign that has been under way at least since the spring sitting of the legislature.

At dissolution, the Liberals held 24 seats. The Tories had two and there was one vacancy. There are about 98,000 eligible voters.

The latest poll, by Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates, puts Liberal support at 59 per cent, up from 51 per cent in May. The Tories were chosen by 31 per cent of respondents, down from 35 per cent. Mr. Ghiz was preferred for premier by 46 per cent of respondents, while Ms. Crane was the choice of 22 per cent.

With overall numbers such as these, analysts and political junkies have been focusing on individual races that could prove interesting. One of those is Ms. Crane’s seat in Morrell-Mermaid, near Charlottetown. She benefited in 2007 from a former Liberal who ran as an independent, splitting the vote. Whether she will be able to hang onto the seat is an open question.

With even the Tory Leader’s district in play, there is speculation that the Liberals could sweep every seat in the 27-member legislature. Such a result would be unprecedented in the province, though heavily lopsided results have occurred repeatedly when the public sniffs a bandwagon and jumps aboard.

“When island voters sense that some party is going to win, they would prefer to park their votes with them,” said Ian Dowbiggin, the chair of history at UPEI.

“In general, island voters want to be on the side of government. It comes down to funding, patronage, access to power.”

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