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PEI voters head to the polls after campaign marked by controversy

Premier Robert Ghiz and his wife Kate Ellis Ghiz arrive at a leaders' debate for the Prince Edward Island provincial election in Charlottetown on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Voters on Prince Edward Island went to the polls Monday after a campaign marred by ugly allegations of bribery, and counter-accusations about the subversion of democracy.

It had started as a sleepy race. For more than 70 years islanders have given every government a second mandate and the ruling Liberals entered the campaign with a healthy lead in the polls. The Progressive Conservatives struggled to make a dent.

Liberal Leader Robert Ghiz, trying to match his father Joe by winning a second consecutive mandate, ran a classic front-runner's campaign. He was low key, stayed largely out of trouble and shied away from major promises, saying the fiscal situation didn't allow them.

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Olive Crane, the only Progressive Conservative re-offering, was more aggressive. She worked hard on issues of trust and played up her rural roots in a pitch for those who feel the Liberals short-change voters outside Charlottetown.

Then came the bombshell allegations.

Issues surrounding a botched immigrant investor program have simmered for three years on the island, where it has long been alleged that people connected with government had benefitted financially. And the sense that newcomers were buying their way into the country has been heightened by anecdotal evidence that few immigrants stayed on the island.

But accusations of outright bribery by would-be immigrants, which were referred to the RCMP, represented another level of alleged impropriety.

The Liberals promptly released information designed to undermine the credibility of the women levelling the allegations and suggested it was a Tory plot. And Mr. Ghiz pushed back even harder.

"This is people with an agenda and I think in Canada, cause we've seen this happen before, we're going to have to look at laws around people trying to interfere in political processes, with some severe ramifications," he said in a mid-campaign interview at the Premier's office in downtown Charlottetown.

Ms. Crane tried to capitalize on the only issue that has really hurt the Liberals through their mandate. During the televised leaders' debate, she said Mr. Ghiz failed the public by not probing the allegations further, going so far as to call him a "disgrace."

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The effect of these allegations remains to be seen. The Charlottetown Guardian published a mid-campaign editorial calling for the next government to hold an inquiry, saying it was "the only way rumours swirling around the controversial handling of this program will ever be dispelled."

A poll released after the allegations were raised showed that Liberal support had softened, though it remained above 50 per cent.

At dissolution the Liberals held 24 seats and the Tories two. There was one vacancy.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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