01/25/2015 11:00 EST | Updated 03/27/2015 05:59 EDT

Wade MacLauchlan, next premier of Prince Edward Island, coy on election timing

Wade MacLauchlan finds himself in an envious position in Canadian politics — set to become head of a governing party and premier after being the sole leadership candidate.

MacLauchlan is poised to replace Robert Ghiz as premier of Prince Edward Island following a Liberal leadership convention next month. And he is taking the reins of a party with a firm hold on the legislature, having 23 of the legislature's 27 seats.

"I had a note from a friend in Ottawa who said he thinks most of the political leaders in Canada would not mind trading spots," he quipped in an interview.

MacLauchlan, 60, had Liberal caucus members stand alongside him when he announced his intentions to seek the party leadership after Ghiz announced he was leaving politics. No one else stepped forward to contest him.

"It was sort of shaping up that way since I put my name in at the end of November," said MacLauchlan, an academic who was president of the University of Prince Edward Island from 1999 to 2011.

The fact that he will make a quick transition from leadership nominee to premier comes as no surprise to Peter McKenna, a political scientist at the university and a former employee of his.

"He likes to have all his ducks lined up and that's his style of leadership. I think once the MacLauchlan ship left the station, all others that were interested got out of the way," McKenna said.

"The consensus formed that he was the odds on favourite and nobody was prepared to take him on."

McKenna describes MacLauchlan as intelligent, qualified and competent. He said MacLauchlan is well aware of P.E.I.'s aging demographic and the need to boost its population through immigration.

A lawyer by trade, MacLauchlan also served as dean of law at the University of New Brunswick and taught at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

MacLauchlan is a longtime member of the Liberal party and has long-standing family roots in it. But he has no experience in provincial or federal politics, though he was elected to the North Shore Community Council and has served on the board of the Federation of Prince Edward Island Municipalities.

MacLauchlan lists the economy as the most pressing issue facing the province. He said he also wants to strengthen rural communities and local governance and build on the island's strong export markets.

But MacLauchlan isn't opening up on many other issues just yet, saying he wants to hear from the public during roundtables being held across the province to develop the Liberal platform ahead of the next election.

He also won't offer his personal views on abortion access, an issue that has divided the province in the past.

"I've watched other politicians take that stand and it doesn't help them or the people that they are trying to serve," he said.

McKenna said he understands that MacLauchlan wants to hold his cards close to his chest right now, but will need to present his views to the public prior to the next election, which could come in the next few months.

"He owes it to the people of Prince Edward Island to indicate what his public policy preferences are," McKenna said.

The province was expecting to hold its next election in October. But Ghiz had said that could be moved to April of 2016 to avoid conflict with the federal vote scheduled for the fall.

When asked about election timing, MacLauchlan is coy.

"It's in the air."

McKenna said it will be difficult for anyone to stop MacLauchlan from winning a majority in the provincial election, whenever it may be.

"I won't say it will be a cakewalk because who knows what can happen over the course of a 35-day campaign," McKenna said.

"But if the wheels don't start falling off the bus I'd say he has a very good shot indeed of winning the next provincial election."

The Liberal leadership convention is set for Feb. 20-21 in Charlottetown, a week before the Progressive Conservatives in P.E.I. select their new leader.

Mike Richmond, the leader of the New Democrats, has not been tested at the polls.

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