Prince Edward Island's ruling Liberals are riding high in the opinion polls and there is about to be a vacancy in the Premier's office – but not one current cabinet minister wants to fill it.
Instead, a coronation is expected on the tiny island province, with the crown going to Wade MacLauchlan, former president of the University of Prince Edward Island, whose political experience so far is being one of 12 members of the North Shore Community Council on the island.
The leadership convention is in February and, right now, Mr. MacLauchlan, 60, is the only candidate for the job of party leader and premier.
"I think it was really a feeling collectively that … an outsider, or a fresh face would be welcomed …" Mr. MacLauchlan said in a recent interview.
More than welcome it seems, as the cabinet, including ministers who were considered heirs apparent and most of the caucus immediately and enthusiastically rallied around Mr. MacLauchlan after Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz surprised everyone by announcing his resignation.
He made his intentions known in November, the day after his government opened a new session of the legislature with a Speech from the Throne. He still had a year to go in his mandate, with a fixed election date scheduled for the fall of 2015. Mr. Ghiz, who has been Premier since 2007, said he was leaving because he wanted to spend more time with his young family.
Right now, 50 per cent of islanders support the Liberals, according to a Corporate Research Associates poll released in early December.
"The question that I don't know the answer to is: Why don't any of the cabinet ministers want the job?" says Don Desserud, a political science professor at UPEI. "It could be because they are so in awe of Wade, but if it's not that, I don't know what it is… I would have thought in any other jurisdiction there would be what we call a pile-on."
Doug Currie, the island's high-profile Health Minister, was considered a successor to Mr. Ghiz, but was among the 250 islanders who were there when Mr. MacLauchlan was piped in to a community hall to announce his candidacy.
He says leadership contests can be divisive and "rip the party apart." So, he is happy to support Mr. MacLauchlan.
"It's all about winning, at the end of the day," Mr. Currie says.
"We can reload and we can recalibrate and still be a very effective government," he says. "We are stronger together moving forward."
He has spoken to Mr. MacLauchlan about his decision.
Prof. Desserud, who is still scratching his head over why no one else wants the job, throws out another possible theory: "It is part of PEI politics that they have this sense of deference to well-established, very successful families and very successful individuals, and Wade is very successful," he says. "He's done everything he's set out to do and he does a great job at it and he makes a big splash when he does things."
In the 12 years Mr. MacLauchlan was at the helm of UPEI, enrolment doubled to about 4,500 students, and he raised millions of dollars for research and development. He is a lawyer and, before taking over at UPEI, was the dean of the law school at the University of New Brunswick.
The openly gay, aspiring politician – his partner, Duncan McIntosh, is the artistic director of the Watermark Theatre in North Rustico – is also from a wealthy and well-respected island family; his father founded a construction company.
Mr. MacLauchlan is not taking the leadership for granted and has been touring the island, drumming up support.
He sees some real challenges, including the economy and the aging population.
In addition, he says, PEI is at a point where it needs to "address our declining power relative to the rest of the country." He says the power base is shifting west, and it's time for the three Maritime provinces to work together, for example, on an immigration policy. He says he is not promoting "political union," but a collaborative approach on strategy and implementation. He believes, too, that together, their voices would be heard in Ottawa.
There is much speculation that after securing his victory, Mr. MacLauchlan would call a snap election in the early spring.
For that reason, the Progressive Conservatives, who are leaderless, moved their leadership convention to the end of February from May after Mr. Ghiz announced his resignation.
Says Peter McQuaid, president of the provincial PC party: "Based on what's projected to be deficits for the province, I think the Liberals are looking for a way to short-circuit the system with the hope that they will be able to take advantage and get a new mandate, prematurely."