First week has few surprises

ANDY WALKER Andy Walker is a P.E.I.-based politicial commentator and freelance writer. His column appears each week in the Journal Pioneer.



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As the first week of the election that wasn't supposed to happen until October wound down, there were few surprises on the campaign trail. The incumbent Progressive Conservatives, who had the advantage of knowing exactly when the vote was coming, although the April 3 date was the worst kept secret in the province, had all of their candidates nominated out of the gate. At week's end, the other parties were still playing catch-up to fill all the vacant slots by the March 17 nomination deadline. Premier Dennis King received a major boost when the quarterly Narrative Research poll was released the day following the election call showing a 71 per cent approval rating for his government - an increase of four percentage points from the November poll. Nearly half of the decided voters (49 per cent) planned to vote Tory (essentially unchanged from November,) while support for the opposition Green Party dropped from 25 to 22 per cent. The Liberals increased slightly from 19 to 20 per cent while the New Democrats went from four to nine per cent. That is a steep hill to climb for the opposition parties and the latest sign the 67th General Assembly is likely to look vastly different. Unlike 2019, when the Green Party was riding high in the polls for almost a year before the election and many ridings ended up being essentially a threeway split as voters handed King a minority government, it looks like voters have their minds made up well in advance this time. The premier was able to turn that minority into a majority by winning the deferred election after Green Party candidate Josh Underhay died tragically on the last weekend of the campaign, as well as two subsequent byelections at the expense of the Liberals. He is expected to increase that majority on election night with most political observers giving him at least 20 seats. It was also no surprise health care is proving to be the main issue of the campaign. All four parties (the revamped Island party has vowed to run candidates this time around, but none had been announced as of this writing) held news conferences outlining their health platforms and in most cases there was little daylight between them. The Progressive Conservatives are vowing to allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners in emergency rooms and free access to virtual services like Maple along with free tuition for those wishing to train as paramedics. The Green Party health platform also includes an expanded role for nurse practitioners, free access to virtual care and opening more walk-in clinics. Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker sees the role of nurse practitioners and physician assistants more in a primary care role rather than in the emergency room but that is largely semantics. The Liberals have vowed to focus their campaign on health care and their plan includes more virtual care, more walk-in clinics, more incentives for family doctors and improved working conditions for nurses. They are also calling for the premier to double as health minister and a new department of mental health and addictions. The New Democrats vow to fight what its calls privatization of health care and that includes an end to public support for virtual health services like Maple. They also suggest an independent hiring process for health professionals and easier access for foreign-training medical professionals to practice in the province. The pace of the campaign is likely to pick up in the coming days with candidate forums and debates giving Islanders a chance to find out where the candidates stand on various issues. However, unless one of the opposition parties catches fire with voters quickly, it looks like a easy route to a second term for the premier.