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This article was published 7/3/2015 (1816 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As Manitoba's New Democrats decide whether to keep a premier or anoint another, Canada's smallest province is in political turmoil after the graceful exit of the governing party's leader turned into a rocky reception for his successor.
Robert Ghiz set the wheels in motion last fall, with a surprise announcement that he would step down after eight years as Prince Edward Island's premier. A fast-tracked leadership race yielded a single candidate — Greg Selinger should be so lucky — and Wade MacLauchlan, a former university administrator, was sworn in less than two weeks ago.
That's about the only thing that has gone right for Island Liberals as they gear up for a spring election and a shot at a third term.
MacLauchlan took office promising renewal and openness and has managed to deliver neither in record time. His entire cabinet consists of former ministers in the Ghiz government. As for openness, he's being sorely tested on that front by a botched effort to transform P.E.I. into a centre for online gambling.
Details of years of negotiations to attract "e-gambling" to the Island or, failing that, to establish a high-tech financial services industry, have been surfacing in the Island media for months. But a report in the Globe and Mail last weekend, linking Liberal supporters and high-ranking government officials to the firm behind the initiative, forced the new premier to take action.
MacLauchlan asked the provincial auditor general to investigate and has promised to extend existing conflict-of-interest restrictions on cabinet ministers to their deputies and to senior political advisers.
"This is not the way I do business," he insisted in a media interview, and he'll ensure that "everything that government does will be on a highly ethical basis."
The implication this may not have been the case in the recent past does his party and government few favours. And allegations of wrongdoing still hang over an immigrant investor program operated during the Ghiz years, even though the RCMP investigated and found no basis for criminal charges.
Ghiz has left MacLauchlan some financial headaches as well. The government has been unable to sell four provincially owned, money-losing golf courses. And while the all-important tourism industry enjoyed a record year in 2014, it was a one-time boost tied to events marking the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference, a major milestone on the road to Confederation.
This perfect storm of allegations, upheaval and challenges makes the once-invincible Liberals look vulnerable. MacLauchlan, the former president of the University of Prince Edward Island, is a respected figure, but his coronation catapulted him into the premier's office with no previous experience in provincial or federal politics.
He is expected to ignore the Island's fixed-election law, which mandates an October election, and go to the polls this spring.
The outcome is no longer a sure thing. The Liberals hold 23 of 27 seats in the legislature and had been riding high in the polls — the latest tally, released this week, gives the party the support of almost 60 per cent of decided voters.
But satisfaction with the government is slipping and the number of respondents who have yet to make up their minds is growing. And the poll was conducted before the e-gambling saga became national news.
The Opposition Progressive Conservatives, meanwhile, placed a distant second in the latest poll (with 26 per cent of decided voters), have been beset with internal divisions and have a new, untested leader of their own.
Former Charlottetown city councillor Rob Lantz, who won the Tory leadership race last weekend, has challenged MacLauchlan to release all documents relating to the e-gambling initiative to lift the "ethical cloud" hanging over the government.
Lantz has vowed to make the e-gambling mess an election issue. NDP Leader Mike Redmond, for his part, wants a wider judicial inquiry into an affair he says makes P.E.I. look like an "incestuous and backward province."
It is also a province where a population of just 145,000 means even a modest swing in votes can bring big changes on election night.
Dean Jobb, a journalism professor at the University of King's College in Halifax, is the author of Empire of Deception.