PEI Votes·Analysis

Inside the P.E.I. campaign with Kerry Campbell

A look at why the parties have been releasing their platforms one piece at a time, a review of party positions on abortion, Liberal attack ads from the 2007 campaign and a reality check on paying for cabinet ministers' vehicles versus paying them mileage.

Voters have faced an avalanche of policy announcements so far.

On Tuesday, day 15 of the campaign, Wade MacLauchlan presented the Liberal environmental platform at a farm in South Rustico. Rob Lantz was in Frenchfort to unveil the PCs plan for economic development in P.E.I.'s primary industries.

In the morning the New Democrats issued a media release pledging their commitment to maintain supply management. Then in the afternoon leader Mike Redmond called on the provincial government to put more pressure on the federal government to better support veterans.

NDP leader Mike Redmond on the campaign trail during the 2015 P.E.I. election. (CBC)

This is how the campaign has gone since it officially got underway more than two weeks ago, and even before then with a series of pre-writ announcements.

I was contacted by a schoolteacher who is trying to get his students to summarize the various party platforms. He said it's been almost impossible for them to do that, given the piecemeal nature of the information so far.

The Liberals and PCs say they'll have platform documents, complete with costing, available soon. The NDP hasn't confirmed, but likely will as well.

Until those documents are produced, we only have the Green Party platform in its entirety. While the other parties have been trying to maximize media exposure scheduling daily press conferences during which they announce, or sometimes re-announce platform elements piece-by-piece, Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker has spent most of his time knocking on doors in district 17, where he hopes to get elected.

A copy of the Green Party's 2015 P.E.I. election platform. The party released its platform before the election was called. (Kerry Campbell)

"One of the biggest obstacles that the Green Party faces with the electorate is this perception that we're a one-issue party," says Bevan-Baker.

"In releasing our full platform in one go as we did, with our economic policy, our fiscal policy, our job creation policy, health care, education, the whole lot; that was a clear demonstration to Islanders that we cannot be labeled as a single-issue party."

Attack ads and the high road, 2007 vs 2015

The PCs seem to have stopped running a series of ads which were labelled "attack ads" by the media and by the Liberals, in which the Tories drew connections to the Liberals under Wade MacLauchlan and Robert Ghiz, and pointed to certain ministerial expenditures — like a $26 pair of headphones for Valerie Docherty, or 41 bottles of water expensed by Doug Currie on his government credit card.

Wade MacLauchlan decried the ads as "bullying" and asked the Tories to stop, while vowing at the same time to keep to the high road with the Liberal campaign.

In the 2007 election the roles were reversed. The Liberals under Robert Ghiz were hoping to unseat the Progressive Conservative government of Pat Binns, which they did.

What helped? According to an article chronicling the campaign in the Canadian Political Science Review in December of 2007:

"The Liberals kicked off the campaign with spirited attack ads, questioning the use of government credit cards by some cabinet ministers, particularly the provincial treasurer. Although the [PC] government said that such tactics had no place in Island politics, and vowed to 'stay on the high road,' it was clearly caught off guard and appeared to become defensive and dispirited."

Party positions on abortion

Despite the fact that the two main parties say they won't include it in their platforms, abortion access continues to be one of the most talked-about issues in the campaign so far.

At a leaders' forum on women's issues on Tuesday, April 14, the NDP and Green leaders both expressed their commitments to create a women's health clinic on P.E.I. where abortion services would be available. The Liberal and PC leaders reiterated their support for the status quo, with the province requiring women seeking abortions to travel to Halifax for a provincially-funded procedure at the QE2 hospital.

Rob Lantz speaks at a Tory leadership town hall meeting in Cornwall in February. (CBC)

The topic of abortion came up while Rob Lantz was campaigning to be leader of the PC party, at a candidates' forum in Cornwall on February 10.

On that occasion Lantz said: "The question of abortion services on Prince Edward Island has become a very political issue. We need to stop playing politics with an issue which the province is obliged ... to provide to Island women."

Lantz continued, "How it's provided, on Island or off, this is a question of geography, it should be left to experts to decide how we most efficiently deliver our services."

At the women's forum on Tuesday, Lantz's response was: "At this time it's not on my agenda. It's not part of the PC platform. It's our understanding that we're meeting our requirements to provide the service and will continue to do so. And if it's demonstrated that we are not meeting our requirements we will bring it into compliance."

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Wade MacLauchlan and his federal counterpart Justin Trudeau seemed not quite at ease during the latter's visit to the Island, when the two were asked to square their positions on abortion.

Reality check: cabinet vehicles vs. paying mileage

On April 10 the Tories announced a series of fiscal management measures, among them, to eliminate taxpayer-funded vehicles for the premier and cabinet, forcing them to use their own vehicles and claim expenses.

But it doesn't appear that the move away from taxpayer-funded cabinet vehicles would save government much money. In fact it may cost more, depending on the mileage rate ministers were allowed to claim.

Each cabinet minister is entitled to purchase a vehicle at taxpayer expense to a maximum cost of about $36,000. Not every minister has always done that. According to government the average cost of the current fleet of vehicles is $26,500. Also according to government, ministers travel an average of 32,000 km per year in their vehicles.

Currently MLAs who are not appointed to cabinet are allowed to claim mileage in their own vehicles (on a certain number of trips per year) at 42 cents per km. 

At the MLA mileage rate, a cabinet minister travelling 32,000 km in a year would be entitled to claim $13,440 in mileage.

Spreading the cost of a $30,000 vehicle over four years, adding in enough fuel to travel 32,000 km at the highway mileage rate of a Toyota Camry, and allowing $100 a month for maintenance and things like winter tires would cost $11,168.57 per year. That doesn't include insurance, which would push the total closer toward the cost of paying ministers for mileage.

About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca

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