10/03/2011 04:30 EDT | Updated 12/02/2011 05:12 EST

PEI Election: Prince Edward Islanders Go To The Polls As Ghiz Seeks Second Mandate

CHARLOTTETOWN - Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz secured his second majority government in Prince Edward Island, albeit a slightly reduced one, following an election that saw bribery accusations rock an otherwise quiet campaign.

Ghiz, who stressed fiscal prudence in difficult economic times, defeated Opposition Conservative Leader Olive Crane.

His victory Monday builds upon a family dynasty in Island politics that began with his father Joe, who served two terms as the province's premier from 1986 to 1993.

"I'm sure he's looking down tonight and is extremely proud," said Ghiz, who at 37 is Canada's youngest premier.

His party won 22 of the province's 27 seats — down from the 24 the Liberals held at dissolution.

But even in victory, Ghiz sounded a bitter note. He lashed out at the Conservatives for running what he said was a unnecessarily divisive campaign.

"It was an extremely negative campaign where a lot of false accusations were made," he said, shortly after winning his riding of Charlottetown-Brighton.

"I chose to take the high road. I'm proud of the high road and I'm glad we won the election."

Ghiz lost two cabinet ministers, one of whom found himself fending off questions about a now-defunct immigration program intended to boost immigration.

The controversy about the province's immigration nominee program erupted just over a week into the campaign, when a former government employee alleged that senior provincial officials accepted cash bribes in order to expedite applications from China. The RCMP are considering whether to launch an investigation.

Allan Campbell, the cabinet minister who oversaw the immigration program, lost his seat in Souris-Elmira to Tory challenger Colin LaVie.

Campbell became entangled in the controversy after the Liberal party released two emails to the media that the government employee sent to him.

In one of the emails, Svetlana Tenetko said she would go to federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenny and the Globe and Mail if she did not get another job with the government after her contract was not renewed.

Tenetko has filed a complaint over the release of those emails with the province's privacy commissioner, who is now investigating how the emails ended up with the Liberals. Campbell has declined comment pending the outcome of the privacy commissioner's probe.

The other cabinet minister to go down in defeat was Fisheries Minister Neil LeClair, who lost to Tory rival Hal Perry in the rural constituency of Tignish-Palmer Road.

Crane battled to victory in her riding of Morell-Mermaid, pushing a message that included tax cuts and improved access to health and education.

Going into the vote, Crane appeared to have an uphill fight on her hands. She was the only Conservative incumbent running, leading a party with two seats. She ended up with five, including a seat that was vacant at dissolution.

"What an exciting evening for democracy, for P.E.I. and for our P.E.I. P.C. party," Crane said.

She also extended an olive branch to Ghiz.

"The people of Prince Edward Island have given you a mandate to work on their behalf to lead our province for the next four years," she said.

"This is a big responsibility and I look forward to working with you to have the best government possible for all Islanders."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper applauded Ghiz on his win.

"On behalf of the Government of Canada, I congratulate Premier Ghiz and his team on their victory," Harper said in a statement.

"I look forward to working with them on promoting economic prosperity and addressing issues of importance to the people of Prince Edward Island and Canada."

Heading into the election, Ghiz said he would not make any outlandish promises. He stuck to that generic message and waited until the final week of the campaign to release his full platform, telling voters he needed a second mandate to improve access to health and education.

Crane, who also released her full platform in the campaign's final days, promised to boost drug coverage and the provincial sales tax from 10 to eight per cent.

The province of 144,000 is coping with a number of economic challenges, including a net debt that's expected to climb to $1.8 billion by March — about $12,500 for every man, woman and child in P.E.I.

Ghiz said the economy would be high on his agenda in his next mandate.

"The worldwide economy is going through some turbulent times, so we need to make sure that as a province we're being very fiscally prudent with the dollars we have," he said.

Negotiations with Ottawa over a health care agreement set to expire in 2014 will also be a priority for his government, he added.

The New Democrats, Greens and Island party also fielded candidates, but only the Liberals and Conservatives ran full slates.

Lowell Croken, the province's chief electoral officer, said preliminary figures showed that 77 per cent of voters cast ballots — the lowest turnout since 1966.

The election was the first under the province's fixed-date legislation. The next vote is scheduled for October 2015.