Ridings to watch
Many Islanders will bristle at the thought that Charlottetown will be at the centre of election coverage on Sept. 29. There are going to be a number of hot spots all across the province. However, early indications are the five ridings in the capital city will provide the closest, and most interesting races of the evening.
Charlottetown-Rochford Square will be the district capturing the attention of both hardcore politicos and casual observers of the blood sport that is Island politics. It will be the district that helps decide the future of the Liberal party, and it's new leader.
It features the new kid versus the time-tested veteran of civic politics: Liberal Leader Robert Ghiz against PC candidate George MacDonald, mayor of Charlottetown. Toss in the popular J'nan Brown for the NDP and you have a political Gold Cup and Saucer the horse race of the year with an anticipated photo finish at the returning office.
Robert Ghiz is at a disadvantage; he's a party leader and is only spending a couple of days each week in the riding. His organizers are picking up the slack while he works other districts with the Liberal candidates.
History, however, is on his side. His father Joe represented the same area during the Liberal good times of the 80s and early 90s.
George MacDonald is the outgoing mayor of Charlottetown, and a former school principal. He's been around town while Robert Ghiz has spent the last handful of years working in Ontario.
At least part of the district Brighton takes in some of the more affluent areas of Charlottetown, and some of the strongest Liberal support you'll find between the Hillsborough and North rivers. Which could toss the advantage to Ghiz, but remember, Charlottetown-Rochford Square also takes in a number of areas where George MacDonald, as mayor, has made investments and helped residents. He can point to improvements at local parks and recreation facilities as part of his legacy a message he's delivering at the door.
MacDonald does have to fight one historical fact: voters here are not always kind to civic politicians who set their eyes on Province House. Liberal convert Ian (Tex) MacDonald lost in the very same riding in the 2000 election, in another Charlottetown district in 1996, and once before that running for the Tories. And Current Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart failed to win a federal seat in 1993.
J'nan Brown is a latecomer to the district, joining the race 10 days after the election call. She is well known, and the New Democrats hope to siphon off enough protest votes to make the race between the Grits and Tories even closer.
Ghiz has more to lose than just a seat. Liberals are looking for him to be, at the very least, opposition leader. Ask Wayne Carew what happens to party leaders who dont win their district.
A few blocks away, from the downtown core, Liberal Richard Brown is looking to find the extra handful of votes that could return him to the provincial legislature. He lost by just 18 votes in the last general election, after being elected the Charlottetown-Kings Square MLA in a byelection in 1997.
Bobby MacMillan, a former hockey star, is looking to score twice for the PCs in the district. He owns a bar in the district, but lives outside of town.
Brown was out of the gates early. He put up his old campaign signs, using electrical tape to hide the "vote for" and says he was campaigning for the nomination. Brown's family roots run deep in the riding. The cranes owned by the family business still park beside the home he grew up in.
MacMillan also grew up a "townie" before heading off to pursue his hockey dreams.
This district features one of two health-care heavyweights the Liberals are using to hammer home the message that Grit votes mean better service at the doctor's office.
Dr. Barry Ling, the chief of surgery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is out to give PC Wes MacAleer a run in Charlottetown-Spring Park.
This riding includes the high-priced properties along the West River, and the student housing near UPEI.
Both candidates are more suited to the West River crowd.
Wes MacAleer won a healthy majority in 2000, capturing 56 per cent of the popular vote, nearly 25 per cent more than the Liberals.
The Liberal party is hitting health care hard, from the first day of the campaign saying it is the defining issue, and Dr. Ling has helped lead the charge.
Voters in Winsloe-West Royalty are deciding between a Liberal health-care candidate and a popular former broadcaster.
Both Gordon MacKay and Wayne Collins recently retired from their professions. MacKay was most recently the chief operating officer of the Queens Health Region. Collins turned off his microphone at the CBC in April and soon turned his attention from the public broadcaster to public service.
Collins is a parachute candidate not living in the riding carrying the PC flag after Don MacKinnon made the decision to step away from provincial politics after two terms. He is well known, having spent more than two decades hosting the morning radio program, "Island Morning."
MacKay does live in the riding, and the party is already pushing him as one of the people who will lead the Grit's promised health-care reforms.
These two neophyte candidates should provide for an exciting race on election night.
There are some other races to keep an eye on. The western end of the Island is an area where Liberals hope the former Ghiz magic may ignite renewed interest and more votes for the party.
Western Prince Edward Island, with its strong Acadian and Catholic roots, is in traditional Liberal territory the scene of many close races during the last election, and of two ridings that came down to the wire last time.
He may be the rebel and the rogue of the Liberal party, but Ron MacKinley also was the only Grit to hold onto his seat in the 2000 election. Now, he is eyeing another mandate that would bring him into his second decade as an MLA.
Since 2000 he has carried the party as the lone opposition member in the legislature, and interim leader. He decided against running for the leadership, and was replaced in April by Robert Ghiz.
He also irked the party, and tested the patience of the backroom, resisting moves by the party executive to exert some control over the opposition office resources, and engaging in a very public scrap with the former party president, Tim Banks.
Standing in his way is Conservative candidate Donna Butler. She came up 157 votes short of making it a Tory shutout in 2000.
Marlene Hunt is running for the New Democrats in the riding. In the 1996 election she captured five per cent of the popular vote.
West Point-Bloomfield made electoral history in 1996 when it elected a country doctor, Herb Dickieson, to the Legislature. He was the first NDP MLA to set foot inside the rail at province house.
In 2000, Dickieson lost to Eva Rogerson by 22 votes. The Tories campaigned hard in the riding last time around, and won by less than one per cent. The NDP say it is one of the ridings where the Binns Tories abandoned their placid campaign style, telling voters they could vote NDP and lose the services of one of their community doctors.
This time Eva Rogerson faces Liberal Sean O'Halloran, a teacher at Westisle Composite High School, and Ed Kilfoil, one of the candidates the NDP hope will prove the Dickieson win was not a fluke.
Dickieson polled 921 during the last election. Traditionally those NDP ballots would not go to the Conservatives. The swing in votes in this district will make for an interesting race.
District 23, Cascumpec-Grand River, was won by less than one per cent last time.
PC candidate Phillip Brown won by two dozen votes in 2000. The riding's NDP candidate Peter Robinson grabbed 416 votes, and he is back for a second run in the riding.
Liberal candidate Robert Noye helped lead the rally when rumours of the closure of the Stewart Memorial Hospital's emergency services surfaced. It is the same situation that made an MLA out of Herb Dickieson in district 25.
Brown provided the Tories with one of their few embarrassing moments during their most recent term. He was caught up in allegations of vote buying shortly after the election. At one point the RCMP were involved in the case. Brown admitted to saying he would help David Laviolette find a job, but did not say he would give him a government job.
In the end Brown was cleared, but not before a large amount of media coverage, and another chapter was added to the Island's long history of political patronage.