Prince Edward Islanders are heading to the polls for a provincial election this spring, with voting day set for Monday, April 3.
Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King made the official announcement Monday evening at his nomination meeting, as he became the final candidate to be nominated to run in the 2023 provincial election for the party.
"This election is going to be about a lot of things. But primarily it's about leadership," King told about 200 candidates and supporters gathered at Winsloe United Church in his district of Brackley-Hunter River, surrounded by signs reading: "PC: With you, for you."
"It's about who's best positioned to lead our province forward during the next four years."
In a high-energy speech, he listed how his party had tackled the key issues of health care, the rising cost of living, and access to housing.
I'm confident in our team, I'm confident in our plan, I'm confident in our track record. — Dennis King
"Today is the beginning of a new journey," King said as he wrapped up, saying: "I'm confident in our team, I'm confident in our plan, I'm confident in our track record.
"And I say to you, and I say to the 26 of you [candidates] behind me: Let's get to work, let's go get the job done one more time."
The election call came after months of speculation about a possible spring election, at kitchen tables and coffee shops as well as in the halls of the legislature. King all but guaranteed it this winter, dropping hints here and there that the PCs were getting ready — most recently in an interview after the party nominated its first candidate in the city of Summerside.
Prince Edward Island does have fixed election legislation setting the next voting date as Oct. 2, 2023, but King exercised his right as premier to trigger it early.
King later defended that decision when talking to reporters.
"It's four years; it's time to have an election," he said. "There's uncertainty in the future and Islanders should have a say in that."
King added that there is a chance of a federal election later in the year, given that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is leading a minority government. "There's uncertainty in Ottawa," he said. "There could be a fall election. Part of the reason our election was moved [is] because the election dates in Ottawa."
The P.C. leader, who had held the premier's job since 2019, said he went to see Lt.-Gov Antoinette Perry on Monday morning to kickstart the election.
Who is running so far?
Shortly after King spoke, Elections P.E.I. issued a news release about the provincial vote to be held in four weeks' time, saying advance polls would take place on March 25, 27 and 31 from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m.
As of Monday evening, the Progressive Conservatives were the only party to have a full slate of 27 candidates nominated and ready to run.
The other parties are planning more nomination meetings in the coming days.
Here is the breakdown so far of how many people have declared their intention to run for each of the other major parties (nominated or soon-to-be-nominated):
The Greens under Peter Bevan-Baker have 14 of 27.
The Liberals led by Sharon Cameron have 19 of 27.
The NDP under Michelle Neill have 13 of 27.
Greens 'feeling really excited'
Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, whose party has formed the Official Opposition since 2019, said he would have preferred that King to stick to the fixed election date of Oct. 2.
"It's not the right time for Islanders, and I also think it's not the right time for democracy," he said. "When you call a snap election like this, it creates such an imbalance between the ruling party … and the rest of us."
Given that, he's excited about his party's possibilities going into the April 3 election.
"We have a platform we've been working on for a very long time. We just nominated this evening two more candidates, so we continue to build a slate of candidates across this province," he said.
"The quality of the folks who are coming forward is second to none and I'm just feeling really excited and really optimistic about the next month."
Liberals, NDP criticize snap call
A spring election has been "the worst kept secret on P.E.I.," said Liberal Leader Sharon Cameron.
"The announcement is as heartbreaking as it is discouraging," she said. "We've always been very vocal about the snap election date."
Cameron said her primary goal going into this election is addressing health care, adding that the party has a strong, diverse set of candidates with more being announced by the day.
NDP candidate Herb Dickieson spoke on behalf of his party, saying not following the fixed election date amounts to "broken promise" for the PC campaign as it starts off.
"When governments attempt to deceive the people, they sometimes regret it," Dickieson said.
As for the party's priorities going into the election, he said the party has health care top of mind and they plans on running a full slate of 27 candidates.
"Michelle Neill has a better deal for Islanders and that's our slogan and we have a very good platform to back it up with," he said. "We're looking with great anticipation for much better results [than 2019] and what we're going to see … is that New Democrats will be elected in the Island legislature."
The Island Party has also announced it plans to field candidates in the race, and has registered with Elections P.E.I. A recent news release said it will call for "responsible and transparent government."
The issues heading in
There will likely be more focused debate on hot-button issues this time around. Back in 2019, the province had a full slate of topics of concern, of course, but there was also a referendum on proportional representation tied to the vote.
This time, expect to see some of the same issues debated in 2019 return in an even more pressing manner, including:
Health care and doctor shortages.
Housing and homelessness.
Inflation, poverty, wages and the economy.
Environment, climate change and shoreline protection.
Health care and doctor shortages are issues that affect most Islanders, with more than 28,000 people and counting on the P.E.I. patient registry. Combine that with a shortage of doctors in many parts of the province, leading to hospital closures in rural parts of P.E.I. and extremely crunched ERs at both Summerside's Prince County Hospital and Charlottetown's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Also in the health care file is the COVID-19 pandemic that has dominated global attention since the winter of 2020 and is still claiming lives on P.E.I.
Housing and homelessness are an all-party priority heading into this election. On housing, increasing rents and a desperately short supply of units have squeezed the tenant population, with rising house prices pushing ownership out of reach for many Islanders. At the same time, more people have been living in tents, on couches, in cars, or at outreach centres and emergency shelters — like the one that opened in Charlottetown last December.
Inflation has drained the resources of Islanders on nearly every bill, particularly when it comes to grocery shopping and buying gas and home heating fuel. Rent and mortgage rates are also way up, squeezing the budgets and putting more people on the poverty line. Use of food banks is at a historic high, with more and more rural populations installing community fridges to help their neighbours.
In some ways, major storms bookended the last four years of governance, with post-tropical storm Dorian in 2019 and post-tropical storm Fiona in 2022 mercilessly pummelling Prince Edward Island. The unprecedented became precedented as all levels of government raced to rework and reinforce their climate change policies.
Elections P.E.I. has sent out voter information cards across the province ahead of the spring election, and is encouraging Islanders to make sure their information is up to date.
For more on how to do that, visit the Elections P.E.I. website.