When Robert Mitchell suddenly quit the provincial legislature, the Green Party jumped out of the gate as the first party to respond ... sort of. Three weeks later (as of this writing) the Official Opposition still has no announced candidate in a riding that should be fertile ground given the party’s three seats in the Charlottetown area.
Thus far the District 10 by-election is a signal of momentum - specifically PC momentum under Premier Dennis King. Three capable candidates have stepped forward, a sign of enthusiasm, with the winner becoming front runner to claim the seat in large part because of the premier’s positive coattails. A seat at the provincial cabinet table is also a strong possibility.
Despite not having a leader, and little chatter about names of substance willing to take on the task, Liberals have attracted a solid young candidate in 29-year-old Zach Murphy. Although the riding is traditionally Liberal, it will be difficult for the party to hold given its leadership void and third party status. The Liberal candidate will win or lose on their own merit.
If Greens are to ever make the jump from opposition to governing, processes like the plodding nomination system must be changed and streamlined. The search process is too long and has turned out of the gate momentum into the appearance of being stuck.
What does it say about Green election readiness? The party needs to get its act in gear, an issue that goes beyond provincial council and the nominating process to the Green caucus.
Division may be overly harsh, but it is no secret the Green caucus has struggled to coalesce since the 2019 election. Some want to promote pet projects, others position themselves as a leader in waiting. None are succeeding particularly well.
Islanders see one leader - Peter Bevan Baker. He’s the reason the caucus now totals eight. And without a strong, team focussed effort it seems unlikely that number will increase anytime soon.
If you read Green Party press releases - my political geekiness is now on full display - many, if not a majority, are sprinkled with the pronoun I. In many cases it shows up in the first paragraph and is repeated throughout. I did this. I promoted that. I demand this.
It’s a guaranteed press release fail, for both structure and content. The goal of any release is to raise an issue of importance to a constituent, organization or the community at large. It’s meant to raise the brand of the Official Opposition. It’s not meant to put an MLA front and centre above the issue or Islanders impacted. Yet this happens routinely with Green missives.
If District 10 unfolds as increasingly expected, with a PC win, a full provincial election is likely for the fall of 2021, a time when COVID is hoped to be under control with a widely accessible vaccine, but before government presses brakes on spending.
If that election were held today, Green and Liberal caucuses would likely both be considerably smaller. It is a challenge of relevancy that opposition parties now face: How do you win Islander’s support at a time when government is widely seen as doing a highly credible job during the greatest crisis in recent Island memory?
District 10 is just the first skirmish in the run-up to the next election. And so far it’s advantage PC.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org