When will Islanders head to the polls? Preparation, speculation abounds

Premier Wade MacLauchlan made significant changes to his cabinet Wednesday, sparking a new round of speculation over when Islanders will head to the polls for the next provincial election.

Fixed date in legislation points to October 2019, but parties preparing to go sooner

There will be 27 new electoral districts for the next P.E.I. general election. (CBC)

Premier Wade MacLauchlan made significant changes to his cabinet Wednesday, sparking a new round of speculation over when Islanders will head to the polls for the next provincial election.

The cabinet shuffle was prompted by confirmations from former ministers Allen Roach and Alan McIsaac that they won't re-offer in the next election. The premier made it clear he intends this new cabinet to lead his government into that vote.

According to the fixed date in P.E.I.'s Election Act, the next provincial vote should take place on Oct. 7, 2019, but with two caveats:

  • if there's a federal election that month — as there's scheduled to be — P.E.I.'s legislation would push its election date into April 2020;
  • the premier has the ability to ask the lieutenant governor to prorogue the current legislative assembly and call an election at any time.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced a major cabinet shuffle on Wednesday, after two cabinet ministers decided to step down and said they wouldn't seek re-election. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

It's looking less and less likely that Islanders will have to wait until the fall of 2019 — or the spring of 2020 — to cast their ballots.

Greens say ready as early as spring

"We have contingency plans on everything from a spring, this year, election … the most popular thought was it would be in the fall of this year," said Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker.

He said the Green party should be in a position to begin the nomination process in some districts within the next two months.

P.E.I. Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker says his party will be ready whenever the election is called. (Brian Higgins/CBC News)

"We have a lot of work in place but we have a lot of work left to do. We're an emerging party. Despite the surge of interest, particularly since Hannah [Bell] got elected, we still don't have the ground game that the established parties do, but we're catching up quick."

In 2015 the Liberals strongly suggested that election would be called early by the party's new leader Wade MacLauchlan, and it was.

Tories preparing, but urge for fixed date

The Tories were forced to reschedule their convention in order to have a new leader in place. That leader, Rob Lantz, didn't win his seat.

It's just not the people that are running that it affects. It affects community groups, it affects families, it affects the whole legislative process.— James Aylward, Progressive Conservative leader

The party's newest leader, James Aylward, has been in place since October.

He said his goal is to have organizing meetings take place in each district before the end of February.

But he also made a case as to why government should stick to a fixed election date rather than call a snap election — even if that means amending the fixed date currently in legislation.

"It's just not the people that are running that it affects," he said. "It affects community groups, it affects families, it affects the whole legislative process."

P.E.I. Progressive Conservative leader James Aylward said that while his party is preparing for a snap election, he is in favour of a fixed date. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"The other component of that too is, we're all hoping that we can get more females to run for public office. It's a proven fact that if you have a snap election, in many cases it's harder for those individuals to literally put their life on hold to run for office when you don't have advance notice."

Advisory Council advocated for fixed dates

In fact, the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women was one of the groups advocating for fixed election dates before they were added into P.E.I. law by the Pat Binns government in 2007.

"To be free to campaign, women often need to make arrangements not only around their paid work, but also around their unpaid work, such as child care or elder care," council director Lisa Murphy said at the time. "Knowing an election date in advance allows more time for women to make these plans."

The date set for the next general election is Oct. 7, 2019, but could be moved if either a federal election happens that month or the premier calls for it earlier. (CBC)

Whenever Islanders go to the polls in the next general election, they'll vote in 27 new electoral districts, created earlier this year by the P.E.I. Electoral Boundaries Commission.

The government of Wade MacLauchlan has yet to introduce promised changes to the P.E.I. Elections Act to allow for a referendum on electoral reform to be held in conjunction with the next election.

The premier said those changes will be debated and passed in the spring sitting of the legislature.

About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca