P.E.I. Premier Dennis King says "in a perfect world," the district of Charlottetown-Winsloe would have a new MLA in place by the time the legislature resumes sitting in early November.
District 10 representative, Liberal Robert Mitchell, unexpectedly announced earlier this month that he had resigned. P.E.I.'s Election Act requires an election to be called within six months of a seat being vacated.
The decision on timing belongs to King, but he said COVID-19 considerations are only one factor he must consider.
"I want to make sure there's a level of fairness for all parties. Sometimes in the past, you know, it might be common for political parties to take advantage of the timing if one party isn't ready… Since nobody was prepared for the resignation of Robert Mitchell, I think we're all on the same level here," the premier told CBC News in an interview Monday.
"In a perfect world, I would like to see the new MLA from District 10 sitting in the legislature during that fall session. But once again, we're living in uncertain times."
COVID-19, lack of returning officer factors too
The premier said once he feels "everybody is on the right page to get ready for a byelection, then that would make it easier for me to pick a date."
King said talks are underway with Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison about the most responsible way to hold a byelection in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and officials in this province have been paying close attention to precautions taken in the runup to New Brunswick's general election Monday.
"We need to make sure that people feel a level of safety to get out and exercise their franchise in District 10. So it's important that Dr. Morrison and her staff be involved."
Another obstacle to a quick byelection is the fact that Charlottetown-Winsloe's returning officer has moved out of the district, and a new one must be put in place.
District 10 would be prize to all parties
There is much at stake, especially for King's minority government. Taking Mitchell's seat away from the Liberals would put the Progressive Conservatives in majority government territory.
Meanwhile, the Official Opposition Greens under Peter Bevan-Baker want to build their presence. Their candidate placed second in the district after Mitchell in the 2019 general election, with the Tory candidate coming third.
The NDP ran a distant fourth in the district in the 2019 election.
The Liberals say they are determined to retain District 10.
"We, as the Liberal Party, think Rob Mitchell did a great job, and whoever would come next, we would hope would follow in his footsteps and look to do a strong job in holding the government to account," said Jordan Brown, a former Liberal MLA who is on the executive of the Liberal Party of P.E.I.
No desire for general election: King
As for the premier, he dismisses talk that he might skip calling a byelection in favour of triggering an early general election for the whole province, in a bid to secure the stability of a majority that way.
P.E.I.'s previous premier, Wade MacLauchlan, went down in defeat when he chose to impel the province into an election six months earlier than the fixed date spelled out in the Prince Edward Island Elections Act, which would have been Oct. 7, 2019.
I'm not thirsting for power. I think what we have now is working really, really well. — P.E.I. Premier Dennis King
"It's certainly not my intention to have a provincial election beyond the date that's cast in the fixed election date, which would be in 2023," said King. The actual date is Oct. 2, 2023, unless the legislature is dissolved earlier by the province's Lieutenant Governor after the legislature passes a motion of no-confidence in the government.
"I do get a great kick out of some of the political pundits who feel I'm salivating over the results in New Brunswick and looking for what they say is, quote, my majority or my power," said King. "I do laugh at that because it's fundamentally different than the way I have been operating as premier and the way I feel that Islanders want their government to operate."
He added: "I'm not thirsting for power. I think what we have now is working really, really well."
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