Ian Dowbiggin | Sept. 26
So, tell us something we don't know.
After three weeks of high-flown rhetoric, profligate promises, staged photo-ops, sterile debates, and the occasional low blow, P.E.I.'s election campaign is back where it started when Premier Pat Binns dropped the writ on Sept. 2.
Health care is the number one issue on voters' minds, as it was last August. And if the Liberals are going to make a big dent in the Tories' enormous majority it will be in Queens County, where Liberal Leader Robert Ghiz's home district is located.
With mere days before Islanders cast their ballots on Sept. 29, the latest poll says the Tories are out in front comfortably in Prince and Kings counties. Another Tory majority looms.
But the two parties are neck and neck in Queen's County.
The Omnifacts Bristol Research poll, commissioned exclusively for The Guardian newspaper, also found that the most important issue for Islanders in this election campaign was health care. It's no coincidence that this opinion is strongest in Queens County, site of the province's main medical facility, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
What all this means is that over the next few days Conservative Leader Pat Binns and Liberal Leader Robert Ghiz will be spending a lot of time in the Charlottetown area. We know this, because while out west the other night, Binns uncharacteristically bragged about the Tories' chances in Prince County. Binns would never make a statement like that if he remotely thought that it would hurt his party's fortunes.
It's clear his sights are on Queens County and its nine ridings either in the capital city or bordering on suburban Charlottetown.
If health care is the big issue the polls tell us it is, then two Queens County ridings in particular should be extremely close battles. In Winsloe-West Royalty. Liberal Gordon MacKay, former CEO of the Queens Health Region, faces off against respected ex-radio host Wayne Collins. In Charlottetown-Spring Park, Dr. Barry Ling, chief of surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, is running against popular Tory incumbent Wes MacAleer.
The Liberals are obviously hoping that voters want candidates with insider experience in the health-care field to voice their concerns in the provincial legislature.
Of course, the main event of the evening on Sept. 29 will be
the showdown in Charlottetown-Rochford Square between Robert Ghiz
and the Tory candidate, Charlottetown Mayor George MacDonald.
Ghiz has been pounding the pavement in recent days as he pays
more attention to his home district. He has to. While Ghiz has
been doing his best to tour other districts with his party candidates,
MacDonald has been tirelessly going door-to-door. He's already
canvassed his entire district and is now going back to the homes
he missed first time around. Doubtlessly, MacDonald has been reminding
constituents about his impressive accomplishments while mayor,
including the Atlantic Technology Centre, a new federal building,
and a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team.
But the real seriousness of the situation stems from the fact that without a seat his provincial political future may be over virtually before it started. How long would it be before the Liberals began looking for another leader? After all, we're talking here about the P.E.I. Liberal Party. It's not exactly one big happy family.
The stakes couldn't be higher for Robert Ghiz. It will make for an uncommonly nervous evening for Ghiz and the Liberals on Sept. 29.
Ian Dowbiggin is professor of history at the University of Prince Edward Island. Author of four books, including the 1999 Canadian best-seller Suspicious Minds: The Triumph of Paranoia in Everyday Life, he's well-known to Maritime audiences as a controversial radio and television commentator on today's hot-button issues.