Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Post PEI Election Tealeaves

The fact that Robert Ghiz's Liberals were reelected was no surprise,  but there were some interesting developments.  

The two cabinet ministers most responsible for the Liberal's Rural Action Plan were both defeated (Allan Campbell in Souris, Neil Leclair in Tignish).  Both were facing strong Conservative candidates, and particular issues in their ridings, but if there were more tangible results from  the Rural Action Plan (hardly even mentioned during the campaign)  then the two would have been better positioned to fight back.

I don't think he would disagree if I said that Neil Leclair was not a great communicator.  What worried farmers first, and then fishermen later on (talk about bad timing going into both portfolios) was that Leclair wasn't any more forceful around the cabinet table then he was in front of a microphone, that he would have been too easily handled by Ghiz and the fifth floor bunch.

Allan Campbell was just the opposite. He was seen as so capable on his feet, and with the media, that when it became clear that Richard Brown could no longer credibly handle the PNP file, it was Campbell picked to take over the thankless job.  Having to defend the indefensible wouldn't have impressed anyone in Eastern Kings. A new school in the district was an accomplishment, but that had less to do with Campbell and more to do with  good maneuvering by parents who argued we'll let some small schools close without a fight, if we get this in return. A padlocked gate at Souris's biggest employer Ocean Choice and a hospital ER that closed at night were seen as Campbell's responsibility.  He actually did better in the election than I thought he would.  I suspect it was his willingness to take on the difficult PNP file that had Robert Ghiz promising some kind of government job if he wasn't re-elected. If Campbell can get back to actually working on rural development issues, he could be helpful

Solving the huge financial catastrophes  facing farmers and now fishermen (a mountain of debt not unlike what the province is facing) won't be easy.  I think primary producers were looking for signs, beyond platitudes, that the Liberals really get it, and I don't think that happened.  On a positive note, for me some of  Robert Ghiz's best moments during the first mandate were when he announced a couple of years ago that he'd called senior executives with Sobeys and Loblaws to insist that they carry Maritime produced beef, and when he compared the collapse of the lobster fishery here to the collapse of the auto sector in Ontario.   Both showed some understanding of the economic forces at play in the food business, and a willingness to use political capital to fight for primary producers. 

There will be some stiff tests ahead: the future of the Atlantic Beef Plant after next March, what to do about the tens of millions of dollars of livestock loans  the Federal Government wants paid back, stabilizing the lobster processing business, and proving once and for all if the tens of millions of dollars going into the "bio-commons" is money well spent, or a cheap location for start-ups who will go elsewhere if the research pans out. 

The make-up of the new cabinet will be a sign of things to come. Alan McIsaac's presence at the cabinet table would indicate that Ghiz et all aren't afraid of strong knowledgeable rural voices. Buck Watts or Charlie McGeoghegan (if he survives a possible recount) would be good additions too.

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