PEI

PC Leader Olive Crane

Olive Crane, a career civil servant, had never been active in politics when family and friends started talking to her about running for provincial office in 2006.
In October 2010, P.E.I.'s Progressive Conservative party elected Olive Crane permanent leader.

Olive Crane, a career civil servant, had never been active in politics when family and friends started talking to her about running for provincial office in 2006.

There was a byelection coming in the district of Morell-Fortune Bay. Crane was active in her community, but through decades in the public service had shied away from politics. When she started to take the idea of running seriously the first question she had to ask was, for which party?

"Up until then I didn't know much about the parties, didn't know much about the process," says Crane.

She settled on the Progressive Conservatives. Crane came into the district race late, just two weeks in advance of the nomination meeting, and was opposed by two party stalwarts. It was too late, she discovered, to sign up members to vote for her. To be eligible, people had to sign membership cards three weeks in advance of the meeting.

But she won over enough members at the meeting to win the nomination, and went on to win the seat in March 2006.

Politics in a hurry

Crane joined a strong Tory caucus in Charlottetown, one that controlled 23 of 27 seats. It was a government that had been in power close to 10 years, with a wealth of experience. Premier Pat Binns placed Crane on the back benches behind a well-established cabinet.

Quick Facts

Born: October 28, 1957

Education: Dalhousie University, degree in social work, 1991

Employment: Career civil servant since 1979, and rose to position of director of social services. Also operates a blueberry farm with her husband.

Politics: First elected in 2006 byelection. Elected again in 2007. Served as interim leader of Progressive Conservatives and won the permanent position in October 2010.

Extra: Served on the board of the national council of welfare. Credits her strong work ethic to growing up on a farm. Time on her blueberry farm is what she misses most about political life.

Family: Married 27 years to Paul Affleck with three adult children: Lindy, Drew and Lydia.

It would have been impossible to predict at the time the central role she would soon be playing in the party she had joined just a few months before.

Crane would not have much time to get comfortable in her new seat in the legislature. For starters the electoral boundaries were changing, and Crane's was changing more than most. Morell-Fortune Bay was becoming Morell-Mermaid. So instead of spreading from her home in Morell east to the shore, it was running south to the outskirts of Charlottetown. In addition to keeping in touch with her own district, she had to be looking ahead to a general election expected in 2007.

She won the nomination for Morell-Mermaid just a week before the election was called for May. Crane was focused strongly on her district, while the larger party apparatus churned around her. At the beginning of the campaign it was favoured to win an unprecedented fourth term.

Crane was finding her new district was dramatically different from the one she had been serving. While Morell-Fortune Bay had been largely rural, Morell-Mermaid included part of Charlottetown. Crane was meeting a wide variety of Islanders as she went door-to-door: in addition to farmers and fishermen there were aerospace workers, bioscientists, IT professionals, and people with interests in wind energy and biofuel.

"I lucked out, because it really helps you be current on almost all aspects of the economy in P.E.I.," says Crane. She describes Morell-Mermaid as a mini P.E.I.

Olive Crane first ran for political office in 2006.

Crane was putting in 12 to 16-hour days trying to reach as many people in her district as possible, but it was work she found she loved. She was amazed at how quick Islanders were to share their deepest concerns with politicians who came knocking at their door.

While the campaign was going well for Crane, by mid-May her party was faltering. On election day the Progressive Conservatives were definitively turfed, reduced to four seats.

One of those went to Crane, who perhaps only escaped the red tide because of vote splitting from a disaffected Liberal who ended up running as an independent in her riding. Her survival set the stage for a quick move from obscurity to leadership.

The leadership stage

With such a small opposition it was inevitable that Crane would quickly become the focus of more public attention, and the PC caucus would very soon become even smaller. Pat Binns resigned his seat in August to become ambassador to Ireland, prompting a byelection the party would eventually lose.

The party needed a new leader, but with the next election four years off it had some time to settle on a permanent one. Crane was voted in as interim leader in September 2007.

Crane was voted in as Conservative interim leader in September 2007. (Province of P.E.I.)

Less than two years after entering politics, Crane was leading the official opposition. That meant more than just a change in her responsibilities and public profile. It meant a change in the way she did politics, a serious reduction in the time she spent in the kitchens of her constituents.

While she would like to spend more time doing that, on the plus side as leader she was able to get out to communities across the province.

"There's different ways you can do it," she says. As leader she is using technology more - Facebook, emails - and hosting more public meetings.

"It's sometimes not just one on one but it's still in the community, in small groups."

Rebuilding

In October 2010, P.E.I.'s Progressive Conservative party officially broke entirely with its past, electing Crane permanent leader over chief rival Jamie Ballem, who had been a cabinet minister in the Pat Binns administration.

In the months since the break from the past has become even more complete. MLA Mike Currie resigned to run federally in May. He lost, but is not reoffering provincially. Jim Bagnall has also announced he is not reoffering. That leaves Crane, who served under Binns for just 14 months, as the only remaining MLA from the previous Progressive Conservative administration.

Since being made permanent leader Crane has been looking ahead to the October election, working backwards from that date to determine the steps required to put her party in a position to win. She has had to build an entirely new team.

She is not daunted by the knowledge that there has not been a one-term government on Prince Edward Island in more than 50 years.

"To me it's not about the history. It's about today, and it's about people. The people, one at a time, and good choices of government," she says.

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