It's been one year and eight months since the P.E.I. Liberals were defeated by the PC Party, and interim Liberal Leader Sonny Gallant says 2021 will be the year his membership chooses a new permanent leader.
"There's different opinions, but the membership felt 2021 would be the year" to hold a leadership vote, Gallant told guest host Steve Bruce in a year-end interview on CBC News: Compass.
The vote will happen either in the spring or the fall, and the party should know "very soon" exactly when it will happen, he said.
If somebody would have told me that three years ago that I'd be interim leader of the party, I'd have said, 'Really?' — P.E.I. interim Liberal Leader Sonny Gallant
The Liberals have been talking about holding a leadership convention since before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but the pandemic has delayed the process, said Gallant.
"We started out 2020, you know, hoping to go across the province and meet with districts and, you know, talk to the grassroots Liberal members. And as you know, everything changed in March," he said.
Not meeting people in person was a challenge
He said the party's goal of rebuilding was challenged this year by not being able to meet many people in person.
"When the [Atlantic] bubble came and we were allowed to get out and about over the summer, we were allowed to talk to more people. And it started to help," Gallant said.
"Most importantly, we had to worry about Islanders' safety and just try to keep a low keel and do the best we could."
The Liberals hold five seats in the provincial legislature, where the PCs have a majority with 14 seats and the Green Party is the Official Opposition with eight seats.
Gallant said he's proud of the work his caucus did during the fall sitting, with a main focus on mental health.
"We were very concerned about the shutdown in Unit 9 [psychiatric ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital]," he said.
'Hard to be critical' of government
His party will continue to support the work of Premier Dennis King in getting Islanders through the pandemic.
"It's pretty hard to be critical of what the government's done. You know, they followed [Chief Public Health Officer] Dr. Morrison's recommendation and we support what they've done," Gallant said.
Gallant said he was humbled to be asked to become the interim leader of the party in 2019, a role he never expected to have.
"If somebody would have told me that three years ago, that I'd be interim leader of the party, I'd have said, 'Really?' You never know what's coming in life," he said.
Hoping for youth as leadership candidates
As for what he's looking for in a new permanent leader for the party, Gallant said he hopes some young people will come forward.
"We had a great young candidate in the [District 10] byelection. You know, it's disappointing we weren't successful. But Zac Murphy was successful enough in bringing out some youth and it kind of regenerated or rejuvenated that district as far as bringing some youth together," he said.
Gallant said he's hopeful for the coming year because of the COVID-19 vaccines that have arrived on P.E.I.
"There's always hope. And, you know, 2020 was a pretty rough year for everybody on P.E.I. and everybody around the world. And we can just hope — and never give up on hope — that things are going to get better. And I'm sure they will."
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