The Prince Edward Island Liberal Party has set Nov. 13 as the date to pick its new leader, and with no declared candidates, the contest is wide open.
In 2019, the party dropped from forming the government to holding third-party status, and leader Wade MacLauchlan resigned.
The party currently has five sitting MLAs, with Heath MacDonald running for the federal nomination in Malpeque. It is headed by interim leader Sonny Gallant.
"I would imagine this is going to be a great prize for somebody," said UPEI political scientist Don Desserud. "This is still a major party in Prince Edward Island."
The timing of the convention is interesting, said Desserud. The next general election is scheduled for 2023, and often on P.E.I., parties have waited until just before an election in order to generate some excitement out of the convention that might carry over into the campaign.
But P.E.I. is no longer a two-major-party system. The Greens form the official opposition.
"I think the Liberals have realized that they can't wait. They can't wait until the next election call. They have to be ready now and they need a permanent leader now," said Desserud.
"Having an interim leader is just not good enough in order to convince the public that they're a party that's ready to govern."
Finding a way back to the top
While there are advantages to having a leader inside the legislature, Desserud doesn't think it likely that party members would consider only its current MLAs as serious contenders.
The new leader will get a lot of attention, and this would be an opportunity for the party to reframe itself, he said.
Under MacLauchlan's leadership in the 2019 vote, the party lost a lot of support to the Green Party, and needs to find a way to win it back.
"The Liberal Party needs to get a new image," said Desserud. "They want to present themselves as an alternative. They need something to… show that they're a fresh party that has new ideas."
It's difficult to say where that change will come from, but Desserud said political races have a way of sorting themselves out in manners that are both surprising and seemingly predestined.
"What I always find when we look at these leadership races is that somebody comes forward and everybody says, 'Oh, of course, but we never thought of that person before,'" he said.
The P.E.I. Liberal Party is facing the same problem in recruiting a leader that all political parties are right now, said Desserud. Any new leader will face a lot of scrutiny, as well as attacks on social media that could extend to members of their family.
It's a big sacrifice to make, and one that Desserud is concerned is keeping potentially good leaders out of politics.
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