Internal email shows P.E.I. premier asking for 'good news' from cabinet during polling period

P.E.I's Official Opposition is questioning government's priorities after an internal email was leaked, apparently by accident, reminding cabinet minister of the premier's request for "good news announcements" to be made while political polling is conducted on the Island.

Opposition questions government priorities after email inadvertently made public

These scribbled notes were included on a copy of an email that was tabled — apparently by mistake — in the P.E.I. legislature Tuesday. (Kerry Campbell/CBC News)

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition is questioning government's priorities after an internal email was made public, apparently by accident, reminding cabinet ministers of the premier's request for "good news announcements" to be made while political polling is conducted on the Island.

"Why are the needs of your failing political career more important than the needs of vulnerable Islanders?" PC MLA James Aylward asked the premier as the issue was debated during question period Wednesday.

The email chain was included in budget documents tabled by Minister of Family and Human Services Tina Mundy on Tuesday.

The first email in the series is from the premier's Chief of Staff Robert Vessey, sent to all cabinet ministers. 

'Where are priorities?'

"Last week in cabinet, the premier asked that each department put together good news announcements during polling period," the email reads. "Can you bring your announcement suggestions to cabinet tomorrow?"

PC MLA James Aylward accused P.E.I.'s premier of placing more importance on his 'failing political career' than the needs of Islanders. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

"We have children and youth at risk," Aylward said in the House. "We have Islanders struggling with mental health and addictions. We have people struggling to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. Where are your priorities at when you're trying to milk some publicity out of programs that vulnerable Islanders need and rely on?"

'Openness and transparency'

Premier Wade MacLauchlan at first appeared to make light of the revelation. MLAs can be heard laughing in the background as the premier suggested it was all part of his government's commitment to openness and transparency.

"Mr. Speaker, yesterday afternoon we tabled emails so that everybody will know that we're doing everything we can to get the message out to Prince Edward Islanders what a great job we're doing," MacLauchlan told the House.

When Aylward said he found it "offensive" to hear the premier make light of the issue, the premier insisted he wasn't joking and continued on the same train of thought.

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan suggested an internal government email tabled in the provincial legislature was simply part of his government's commitment to openness and transparency. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

"This is about openness and transparency," he said. "It's letting Islanders know about the great programs from which they can benefit. It's about letting Islanders know how they can access programs. I'm glad this is brought up because it gives another opportunity for Islanders to know the great work of this government."

The polling firm Corporate Research Associates told CBC News it began calling Island households this week to conduct its quarterly political poll, and will continue calling until around the end of the month.

MacLauchlan, Liberals dropping in polls

MacLauchlan's Liberals, and the premier himself, have seen their numbers decline in recent polls. The last poll from the firm, issued in March, showed MacLauchlan slipping behind Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker as Islanders' first choice for premier. 

The party remained in first place, but dropped 10 points from polling a year earlier.

Those slipping poll numbers have been referenced frequently by the Official Opposition through the spring sitting of the legislature, often through the heckling and back-and-forth of question period.

'Good news' suggestions

One of the emails tabled with Mundy's budget documents included a number of suggestions for announcements from her department which could become "good news" for government in the coming weeks:

  • A joint federal-provincial announcement of $5.2 million for new seniors housing units in the province. (according to the email, the timing of the news release is being worked out with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation).
  • $946,000 for transitional housing for victims of family violence (another announcement to be worked out with CMHC).
  • Subject to cabinet approval — a $300,000 increase in the budget for the province's childcare subsidy program to increase the income threshold, so working parents can still qualify even as their salaries are pushed up with increases to the minimum wage.

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Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.