Prince Edward Island Holds Third Consecutive Early Election In Defiance of Fixed-Date Election Law

Even that wry grin cannot bridge the absurd incongruence of PEI’s fixed-date elections law, scheduling elections every fourth October, with the practice whereby the last three elections in 2015, 2019, and 2023 all occurred every fourth April or May.

Dennis King, Premier of Prince Edward Island and leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, advised Lieutenant Governor Antoinette Perry to dissolve the 66th General Assembly on 6 March 2023, for an election on 3 April 2023.[1] King had hinted as early as December 2022 that he would seek an election in the spring instead of waiting under October 2023.[2] King all but confirmed this course in February 2023 when he declared before a party conference: “April is a time when we usually have elections on P.E.I.” and “The party is working hard on nominations to be ready so if and when we want to call an election, and need to have an election, we’re ready to go.”[3] This upcoming 67th general election marks the third consecutive general election in which the Premier has advised and obtained an early dissolution of a majority legislature[4] about six months before the date scheduled under the Island’s fixed-date elections law, yet King’s decision comes 3 years, 11 months, and 8 days – as near as makes no difference 4 years – after his predecessor announced the previous provincial general election in March 2019. King said on 6 March: “It’s four years; it’s time to have an election. There’s uncertainty in the future and Islanders should have a say in that.”[5]

The fixed-date elections law enacted in 2008 scheduled elections for the first Monday in October, starting in 2011, but only the autumnal election in that year occurred as scheduled.[6] In 2014, Prince Edward Island added a proviso to its Elections Act scheduling its general elections for every fourth October unless they would otherwise overlapped with scheduled federal elections, in which case the province would extend the life of its legislature by six months and postpone its election until the fourth Monday in April.[7] Prince Edward Island’s second scheduled general election should therefore have occurred in April 2016, six months after the federal general election of October 2015.[8] However, the previous Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan secured two election dissolutions, first on 6 April 2015 for an election on 4 May 2015,[9] and again on 26 March 2019 for an election on 23 April 2019.[10] Prince Edward Island has therefore since 2011 held elections roughly every four years, but only once in accordance with the fixed-date election law in section 4.1 of the Election Act.

King also told reporters on 6 March 2023 that he wanted Islanders to vote in April 2023 to avoid the possibility of Prince Edward Island’s election scheduled for Monday, 2 October 2023, and the writ of 28 days, overlapping with a potential federal election in September or October. “There’s uncertainty in Ottawa. There could be a fall election. Part of the reason our election was moved [is] because the election dates in Ottawa.”[11] Prince Edward Island’s remedial legislation from 2014 only allows the province to delay its general election from one October to the following April if a scheduled federal general election until section 56.1(2) of the Canada Elections Act coincides with the writ of a provincial general election, so King correctly pointed out that Prince Edward Island would remain powerless to prevent overlapping elections if Prime Minister Trudeau opted for a second consecutive federal snap election in September-October 2023.

The modern iteration of fixed-date election laws in Canada started in British Columbia in 2001, and its early adherents always stated that the laws would prevent both early snap elections (like Chretien’s in 1997 and 2000) and “late” elections, like Campbell’s in 1993, which pushed the 34th Parliament near the absolute maximum of five years; instead, elections would now happen regularly every four years.[12] So Prince Edward Island finds itself in this strange and anomalous state of holding three consecutive general elections almost precisely four years part (4 May 2015, 23 April 2019, and 3 April 2023) and yet contravening its fixed-date elections law. In other words, Dennis King and his predecessor Wade MacLauchlan both breached the letter of the fixed-date elections law while simultaneously conforming to its spirit.

All political observers in Prince Edward Island also knew that King would follow MacLauchlan’s precedent and opt for an election in the spring of 2023 instead of waiting until October and forcing the 66th General Assembly to last four and a half years instead of four. This widespread (and correct) belief led to some amusing and absurd political exchanges, such as this between King and CBC News on 19 December 2022.

Interviewer: “Speaking of what comes next, Islanders will be heading to the polls in 2023. Would you like to announce the date of the election right now?”

King: “I think that the election is in October and that right now we remain focused on trying to get Islanders through some difficult times. That remains my focus. I know that there’s been a lot of talk about the election – the media and the opposition parties have been talking a lot about an election – but it really isn’t something that preoccupying a whole lot of my time. I have been saying for a while that 2023 will be an election year, and all parties and all Islanders should be getting ready for that. So, that’s – nothing’s changed in that regard.”

The CBC journalist pressed him further: “You haven’t ruled out spring.”

King protested, still maintaining an air of ironic detachment but bristling and arching back slightly in his seat: “I haven’t thought about it. I’m not trying to be coy here at all.”

“C’mon! You have thought about it.”

“I haven’t. I’ve been really focused on – y’know, in case you haven’t been watching – we’ve been dealing with a lot of heavy issues here that require a lot of time and focus. I think that this was given a little light because one of your reporters attended the PC Annual General Meeting, and the party was outlining – which is their job – that 2023 was the time to get ready for an election, and they were outlining some of the measures that they were taking. But, really, I can say quite honestly that I haven’t really thought a great deal about it. Who knows what factors could change that? I mean, if anything I’ve learned in the last three-and-a-half years is don’t get too dug in on a position because tomorrow something difficult or challenging could arise, so who knows. But as of right now, you should prepare for an election in 2023.”[13]

Loquacious and garrulous Maritimers can at least project an air of folksy mendacity and bucolic “aw, shucks” provincialism instead of the cruel pomposity that we would see from other regions of the country, but the cuteness of King’s wry grin cannot erase the inherent absurdity of the whole scenario whereby both the previous Liberal government and his Conservative government refused for eight years to table a simple bill to change Prince Edward Island’s scheduled elections from October to April.

What MacLauchlan and now King have done in Prince Edward Islands only highlights the futility and absurdity of Canada’s fixed-date election laws – but in a such a polite way that befits the birthplace of Confederation. Yet no jurisdiction in Canada will ever repeal its fixed-date election law outright because legislatures across the country have already layered on spending limits for political parties and elections based on scheduled dates for general elections, and risk-averse civil servants have likewise already expanded the scope and duration of the caretaker convention by layering on top of fixed-date election laws and statutory pre-writ periods. As such, Prince Edward Island’s legislature desperately needs to make the MacLauchlan-King schedule of spring elections official and amend its fixed-date election law to schedule general elections to some day every fourth April or May.

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[1] Cody MacKay, “King Makes It Official: Prince Edward Island Election to Be Held April 3,” CBC News, 6 March 2023.

[2] Shane Ross, “P.E.I. Premier Dennis King on Fiona, Health Care, and His Thoughts – if Any – on an Election in 2023,” CBC News, 19 December 2022.

[3] Cody MacKay, “Premier Hints at Spring Election as P.E.I. PCs Kick Off Nomination Season,” CBC News, 10 February 2023.

[4] While the Progressive Conservatives only won a plurality of seats in the last general election in 2019, with 13 out of 27 MLAs, a by-election held on 2 November 2020 gave the Conservatives a bare majority of 14 of 27, and a subsequent by-election the following year on 15 November 2021 reinforced the Conservatives’ majority with yet another seat, for a total of 15 of 27. Nicola MacLeod, “PC Win in District 10 Hands King Government Slim Majority,” CBC News, 2 November 2020; Arturo Chang, “PC’s Mark McLane Unofficial Winner of Cornwall-Meadowbank By-Election,” CBC News, 15 November 2021.

[5] Cody MacKay, “King Makes It Official: Prince Edward Island Election to Be Held April 3,” CBC News, 6 March 2023.

[6] Prince Edward Island, Legislative Assembly. An Act to Amend the Elections Act. Bill 9, 63rd General Assembly, 2nd Session, 2008.

[7] Prince Edward Island, Legislative Assembly. An Act to Amend the Election Act. Bill 34, 64th General Assembly, 4th Session, 2014.

[8] Prince Edward Island, Election Act, Chapter E-1.1, 23 December 2017.

[9] CBC News, “P.E.I. Election Called for May 4: Premier Wade MacLaughlan Calls Long-Expected Spring Election,” 6 April 2015.

[10] Kevin Bisset, “Prince Edward Island Election Called for 23 April,” CTV News, 26 March 2019.

[11] Cody MacKay, “King Makes It Official: Prince Edward Island Election to Be Held April 3,” CBC News, 6 March 2023.

[12] James W.J. Bowden, “Reining in the Crown’s Authority Over Dissolution: Canada’s Fixed-Date Election Laws versus the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of the United Kingdom,” M.A. Thesis (Carleton University: September 2018), at pages 38-42.

[13] Shane Ross, “P.E.I. Premier Dennis King on Fiona, Health Care, and His Thoughts – if Any – on an Election in 2023,” CBC News, 19 December 2022. This exchange lasted from around 11 minutes, 25 seconds until the very end of the interview at 13 minutes.


About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
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2 Responses to Prince Edward Island Holds Third Consecutive Early Election In Defiance of Fixed-Date Election Law

  1. Rand Dyck says:

    I guess it is time for even those of us who saw the value in fixed election dates to throw in the towel, and it is time for you, James, to tackle other issues (as you have) . You have thoroughly convinced us that fixed election dates are NOT fixed!


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