PEI Votes·Profile

Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan

Wade MacLauchlan discusses his path to politics — and to premier of P.E.I. — with Compass host Bruce Rainnie.

A long path to politics

Wade MacLauchlan will become the 32nd premier of P.E.I.

The 32nd premier of P.E.I. suppresses a smile when asked about his first foray into business.

"I was 10 years old and selling newspapers to campers in Stanhope," he recalls.

"My cousin and I would buy them for four cents and sell them for seven. But because so few people had pennies within reach, we wound up selling many for a dime. So we were buying for four, asking seven, and selling for 10. That's a darn good return."

When asked to relate that memory to present day, and to his plans as premier, he said, "We have to do a way better job of selling what we have. That's what I can do very well, and it's a major reason why I'm here."

Wade MacLauchlan was president of UPEI from 1999 to 2011. (CBC)
Wade MacLauchlan was born 60 years ago in Stanhope, on the north shore of P.E.I. He's the third of five children to Marjorie and the late Harry MacLauchlan. His father was a businessman whose endeavours included pulpwood, heavy construction, tourism, golf, cable television, oil and gas distribution, and real estate.

"Dad was the entrepreneur and the risk taker. He was also an eternal optimist, famous for his greeting, 'It's a great day!' But for Dad, it wasn't just a slogan — he'd actually go out of his way to argue the case."

From his mother, now in her 80s, MacLauchlan learned to never underestimate the power of a question.

Running UPEI a good 'prep ground'

"When Dad would have a scheme, Mom would want to know every single angle. And she was relentless. She demanded answers. And if the answers weren't good enough, she'd demand better ones." 

Wade MacLauchlan making his first speech as Liberal leader-designate. (CBC)
With that mix of optimism and accountability, MacLauchlan began a successful career in the academic world: law professor at Dalhousie University, Dean of Law at the University of New Brunswick, and President of the University of Prince Edward Island from 1999 to 2011.

His time at UPEI is closest to his heart, and he is proud of helping to raise millions of dollars for research and development, and seeing enrolment double during his tenure. However, university faculty also held their first-ever strike in 2006, walking off the job for more than two weeks that spring.

Being premier of P.E.I. was never on my bucket list, it really wasn't.- Wade MacLauchlan

"I'm not sure you could find a better prep ground for becoming premier than running a university," MacLauchlan said.

"You are dealing with vastly disparate groups of people, each with its own interests. You are trying to attract and keep the most vital talent possible, both at the teaching and student levels. And you absolutely have to finish in the black at the end of every fiscal year. I'll stand on my record with respect to all of the above."

When he left his post as university president in 2011, MacLauchlan turned his attention to his first political mentor, and spent the next three years researching and writing the biography, Alex B. Campbell: The Prince Edward Island Premier Who Rocked the Cradle.

Wade MacLauchlan wrote the biography Alex B. Campbell: The Prince Edward Island who Rocked the Cradle.
"If I had to boil down the success of Alex Campbell into two words, they would be 'listening' and 'caring.' When those are a leader's fundamentals, the sky's the limit."

MacLauchlan says it was writing the book that opened his eyes to the possibility of a run for the Liberal leadership but it was not an easy decision.

"Being premier of P.E.I. was never on my bucket list, it really wasn't," he said.

"Even when Premier Ghiz resigned, it was not as if the idea suddenly leapt to mind. But in the days that followed, I reflected on what will keep P.E.I. vibrant, and I believe our future depends in large part on enhancing our place on the national map. I think I'm the right guy to do that.”

Criticism of candidacy

There has certainly been criticism of MacLauchlan’s candidacy.

Almost immediately after he launched his campaign, he was labelled by opposition parties as a wealthy elitist, out of touch with everyday Islanders.

My place in the world is P.E.I.- Wade MacLauchlan

He is hesitant to address those accusations, saying he wants to have a "higher tenor" of political debate, but when pressed, he said, "Follow me around for the week … I enjoy hearing from everyone, and could care less what a person's education or financial background is. It quite honestly never even enters my mind."

MacLauchlan has yet to announce his campaign platform, and has been criticized for that as well.

He says it will be based on his discussions with Islanders and will be unveiled when an election is called. In the meantime, he says his political motivation has not changed since those early days peddling papers.

"My place in the world is P.E.I., always has been, always will be. And now I have a chance make a difference.

"Pierre Elliot Trudeau once said, 'The essential ingredient of politics is timing.' I believe that, and I believe now is the time for me."

Factoid: Wade MacLauchlan is the first member of the Order of Canada to become premier of a province. Many have received the distinction after serving as premier, but none have had it prior.


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