Liberals Take Early Lead In P.E.I. Election

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ROBERT GHIZ
CP


The Liberal Party on P.E.I. has won another majority government.

The Liberals won 22 seats while the Progressive Conservatives took the remaining five.

When the election was called, the Liberals had 24 seats, the PCs two, and one seat was vacant.

Robert Ghiz emerged from his Charlottetown home soon after Monday's majority projection was made.

Ghiz, 37, said he had been nervous before the results came in.

"I guess [there's] a little sense of relief. It's nice to see the results finally starting to come in," he said.

"There are always going to be a lot of close races out there. And, at the end of the day, we knew that 14 was the mark we were going to need to form government and 18 was the mark for a solid majority, so anything on top of that is a bonus."

Progressive Conservative Leader Olive Crane was somewhat buoyed by what appeared to be gains for the party. Crane was the only Tory incumbent running, and at the start of the campaign there was talk of a Liberal sweep.

"Today's about Islanders and they have made their decision," Crane told CBC News.

Crane had to wait a relatively long time for the results in her own district, almost two hours before CBC projected she would win.

Health care 'emotional issue'

An opinion poll near the end of the campaign identified health care as the most important issue of the election.

It played to the Tory message that the Liberals were ignoring rural areas. Hours were cut at the emergency department in Montague, and the government had trouble keeping a full complement of doctors in western P.E.I.

In an interview with CBC News, Ghiz said health care would be a key priority for his new government.

"It's not an exact science. That's why health care is such an emotional issue," he said.

"We have to make we have the best possible health care for the resources we have available."

"It's been good, if not great," he said.

The Liberal win makes P.E.I. one of the few Liberal bastions in the country, and there have been concerns about how that might affect the province's relationship with the Conservative majority in Ottawa.

"We're always going to have issues that we're going to disagree on," said Ghiz, but he denied there is any friction with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"I've met with the prime minister alone, four or five times, one-on-one meetings over the last four years. And you want to know what? He's given me some advice that has been good. We've had some good discussions."

Few gains for other parties

Three other parties fielding candidates — the NDP, the Green Party, and the Island Party — failed to win a single seat. The Island has only ever elected one MLA who was neither a Tory nor a Liberal: New Democrat Herb Dickieson in 1996.

Ghiz was first elected premier in 2007. From the beginning, it appeared the latest vote was the Liberals' to lose. They started with a comfortable lead in opinion polls, and Islanders have not turfed a government after just one term since 1935.

The campaign did not go as smoothly as Ghiz might have hoped. In the second week, the Provincial Nominee Program reared its head.

Crane had hounded the government since 2008 over conflict of interest regarding questions of where immigrant investor money went, but by the start of the campaign, PNP had petered out as an issue. That changed when three former provincial employees came forward to accuse high government officials of accepting bribes and committing fraud. Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney referred the file to the RCMP and the Canada Border Service for investigation.

The Liberals won 23 seats in the 2007 general election, and increased their advantage during the mandate. Former premier Pat Binns resigned his seat soon after the election, and Liberal Charlie McGeoghegan won the ensuing 2008 byelection. This spring, Tory MLA Mike Currie resigned to run federally. He lost that race, but did not return to provincial politics. Progressive Conservative MLA Jim Bagnall chose not to reoffer, leaving the opposition with just one incumbent.

With his second win, Ghiz extends a family dynasty on P.E.I. His father, Joe Ghiz, was premier from 1986 to 1993.

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