Why it's taking so long for P.E.I.'s political parties to release their full platforms
Here’s what the leaders say, and what a political scientist thinks
On the morning of Day 16 of Prince Edward Island's election campaign, the Liberals were about to release their full platform, the Greens were preparing to, and the Progressive Conservatives still hadn't said anything about the environment.
Only the NDP had released its full platform in the first week of the campaign. Still, the costing won't come out until this weekend.
All these platforms were presumably written before the April 3 election was called. Why aren't they released right away?
On Wednesday, CBC News asked the four major leaders that question.
NDP Leader Michelle Neill said it is important to be clear with the voters, and that's they released their policies early.
"I want every single person on P.E.I. to know exactly what we stand for — be able to read all of the little fine print, the details, everything," said Neill. "That's why we put it out early."
The party is still costing out its promises, she said, and will release that by the end of the coming weekend.
In 2019, the Green Party released its full platform early in the campaign. Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said that was important at the time, in order to establish the party's position when it was still new as a contender for government on the Island.
But he argued that releasing a platform plank by plank, as the party has done this campaign, can actually improve public debate.
"It is so important in elections that each individual issue comes forward and is given enough time," he said.
"When you do your platform in planks as we have, you give space for those other issues to be properly discussed. I'm not sure if that would have happened had all the parties come out with their entire platforms."
PC Leader Dennis King said his party's plan is designed to prioritize issues, making reference to a focus on health in the first week.
"That was our plan all along. I think Islanders want to know specifically, right off the bat, what we were talking about in health care," said King.
"I think that's an important way to roll it out."
The full Progressive Conservative platform will be released Friday, he said.
Liberal Leader Sharon Cameron said the Liberal platform wasn't released earlier thanks to King's snap election call on March 6, when the Island's fixed election date was Oct. 2.
"If it had been in October, we would have had a full platform.
"But to be responsible, and to really understand what we're putting out there, we wanted to continue to consult with people and now it's done," she said.
How the Red Book changed everything
It wasn't always this way.
Even the expectation of being able to go to a single source to review a party's political promises is relatively new, said Alex Marland, a political science professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland.
"They used to be just a collection of things that the leader said in the legislature. They were advertisements that were found in newspapers. They were things that were said in speeches," said Marland.
This changed in 1993 when the federal Liberals released the Red Book. It was a detailed platform that not only contained a comprehensive list of things the LIberal Party promised to do if elected, but included price tags for each promise.
And it proved to be a winning strategy. Jean Chrétien's Liberals handed the incumbent Progressive Conservatives the worst defeat for a governing party in Canadian history.
"After 1993 there was this pressure for all parties to start doing that, both at the federal and provincial levels," said Marland.
Controlling the news cycle
Then in 2006 came another change in approach.
Instead of releasing a full platform at the beginning of the campaign, Stephen Harper's Conservative Party introduced the approach we are seeing on P.E.I. today. There was a controlled release of the platform, one announcement at a time.
"The idea then was that you would control the message instead of just letting everything go in one platform at one time," said Marland.
Using this method, every time Harper made a campaign appearance, he made news with a new campaign promise.
Again, it proved a winning strategy. Harper became prime minister, and again it became a strategy that was difficult to ignore.
"If you don't do that, then your opponents might," Marland said of stretching out the promises. "They're the ones setting the agenda. They're the ones doing something newsworthy."
P.E.I. Liberal Leader Robert Ghiz introduced the strategy on the Island in 2007, ending a decade of Progressive Conservative rule, and that's the way most parties have done it since.
'We've had a plan coming into the election'
The strategy is not without its drawbacks.
Leaders and candidates asked about policies, perhaps by the media or maybe on the doorstep, can find themselves with nothing to say if the policy hasn't been announced yet.
That was a problem faced by King at an education announcement Monday. He was asked about increasing resources for English or French as a second language teaching, but he didn't have an answer yet.
He said those plans would be included in the party's full platform.
"We've had a plan coming into the election of how we were going to do this and the way we were going to do it, and we're following that plan," said King.
"When we come to an announcement, we try to make sure we have a list of things that we're trying to do, but it might not be the entire offering in terms of what our educational plan is for P.E.I. So you'll see that in our full platform."
Having to wait for the promises to be unveiled can be even more acute for candidates, said Marland.
"Candidates get kind of blindsided by what the policy is when it gets announced," he said.
"Candidates feel very alienated by saying, 'I had no input into this policy. I didn't know this was coming and I didn't know I was running for a party that supports this.'"
Party discipline during a campaign makes it very rare for a candidate to express such concerns, but Marland said they have made these complaints to him in post-campaign interviews.
Social media is in the process of changing strategies again, said Marland.
Parties on the conservative end of the spectrum in particular, he said, are moving away from news conferences for announcements and toward using social media platforms to reach voters directly.
In 2019, the federal Conservative Party released its full platform early, and then made amendments as it received feedback over the course of the campaign.
Neither of these strategies has produced winners as clearly as the innovations of 1993 and 2006 did. The one certainty is that political strategists will keep searching for a new edge.
With files from Steve Bruce, Jessica Doria-Brown and Wayne Thibodeau