A pair of debates in Prince Edward Island will mark the last week of an election campaign centred on two leaders with deep island roots, but who are just getting their feet wet in provincial politics.
Just two months after assuming their leadership roles, Wade MacLauchlan of the Liberal party and Rob Lantz of the Progressive Conservatives will have those roles put to the test in the provincial election May 4.
“The inexperience is well distributed,” said Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.
“Neither one can claim an advantage as a consequence. So basically it’s taken the issue right out of the campaign.”
The NDP and Green party have also taken on new leaders since P.E.I. held its last provincial election in 2011.
None of the party leaders hold seats in the legislature and only the Green party’s Peter Bevan-Baker has experience running as a candidate in a provincial election.
The Tory and Liberal leaders aren’t complete beginners to politics. Lantz, 45, spent eight years on Charlottetown city council in addition to his work in the technology field.
MacLauchlan, 60, most notably served as president of the University of Prince Edward Island but was also elected to the North Shore Community Council. He also sat on the board of the Federation of Prince Edward Island Municipalities.
But Desserud said the overall political inexperience is evident in the campaigns. He cites it as a reason he believes the Tories are having trouble capitalizing on scandals linked to the previous Liberal administration.
“I don’t understand why they would not be more aggressive in using the allegations that there was a misuse of funds or that people were involved in financial deals that shouldn’t have been involved,” he said.
The Liberal government under Robert Ghiz has been tied to scandals involving a failed Internet gambling initiative and an immigrant investor program that was the subject of an RCMP investigation.
“The Liberals are saying that because they have a new leader that all those problems are gone now and therefore they shouldn’t be held accountable for them. And I’m surprised anyone’s letting them get away with that.”
Since taking over as premier, MacLauchlan has taken a number of steps aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in government operations, including the introduction of the province’s first ethics and integrity commissioner.
Desserud said MacLauchlan’s inexperience has shown on the campaign trail. He said the former university president is still tied to a more academic style of delivery.
“He tends to over-explain things in a more complicated way than is probably appropriate,” he said.
“Lantz is in that sense the better communicator.”
Voters will have a chance to see those communication skills put to the test when the leaders debate on Monday and Thursday nights.
The governing Liberal party holds 20 seats in the legislature, the Tories have three seats, there is one Independent and three seats are vacant.
The Liberals have held power in P.E.I. since 2007, winning two straight majority governments.