Prince Edward Island residents will go to the polls on April 3, thanks to an early election call Monday from Progressive Conservative Premier Dennis King.

King told supporters at a nomination meeting in his riding north of Charlottetown that he had visited Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry earlier in the day to dissolve the legislature — six months ahead of the province’s fixed election date.

He later told reporters he felt it was time for Islanders to have a say in the future direction of the province, after just under four years of his PC party’s leadership.

He dismissed the notion that calling an election six months early represented political opportunism, even though he has previously pledged to honour P.E.I.’s fixed election date.

"I think if I would have called the election at the two-year mark, I think that would have had some merit," he said. "I think we’re at the four-year mark, and it’s time to have an election."

At dissolution, the Conservatives held 15 of the legislature's 27 seats. The Green Party, led by Peter Bevan-Baker, had eight seats, and the Liberals under Sharon Cameron held four.

The Conservatives won a minority government in 2019, but they have had majority status since a byelection win a year later.

King entered the room Monday to the song "Unstoppable" by Australian pop singer Sia and was greeted by about 200 supporters and friends. Anticipating lines of attack from his main opponents, he boasted of his government's accomplishments in trying to update P.E.I.’s health-care system, putting money in Islanders pockets through pandemic and inflation payments and getting more housing built.

Citing two major post-tropical storms that hammered the province since his election, the COVID-19 pandemic and a potato fungus that halted exports to the United States, King said his team has governed in "the most challenging circumstances in the history of the province."

Prince Edward Island premier @dennyking says 'it's time,' calls provincial #election for April 3. #PEIPoli

"It hasn't been perfect," he added. "We haven't gotten it all right," but he said that when they made mistakes, they admitted them and corrected course.

“A PC government led by Dennis King will never be afraid to do the hard work … because when the going gets tough, we just get going.”

Political experts suggest the Progressive Conservatives are in a strong position to win another mandate, as the electorate isn't in the mood for change and the opposition is seen as weakened.

Under the province's Election Act, general elections are supposed to be held every four years on the first Monday in October, which would have made for an Oct. 2 vote. Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, said he sees no compelling reason for King to go to the polls early.

"I don't see what the concern is, except that maybe they're just tired of governing and like to have an election and start with a clean slate," Desserud said in a recent interview, adding the governing party remains well ahead in the polls.

His colleague in the university's political science department, Peter McKenna, said there are no signs of disillusionment with the Tory government. "The Liberals are struggling. The Green Party is kind of in a holding pattern," he said. "I see the outcome of this provincial election as being a foregone conclusion."

Still, there are a number of key issues facing the province, McKenna said, pointing to health care, inflation, housing shortages and climate change.

King's government has also faced criticism for its response to post-tropical storm Fiona, which caused widespread damage across the Island in September.

"Did they have a plan? Did they roll things out effectively? Were they good administrators?" Desserud asked. "These are not ideological questions. These are questions based on competence."

Earlier in the government's term, King and his cabinet also had to deal with damage caused by post-tropical storm Dorian in September 2019, and then the fallout from the pandemic, followed by the spread of potato wart disease in 2021, which cost the Island about $50 million in lost revenue.

"I don't know of any government in recent history ... that has had to deal with so many crises in their first term," Desserud said.

As for the Green Party, he said the party has been on the forefront of social issues, including the Island's housing shortage. Addressing issues arising from the pandemic or potato wart crisis and connecting them to changes in the climate can help the party, he added.

"This is a big, long-term cultural change and economic change that will be required and has a hard sell in an election campaign. But I think that the Green Party is well situated to make those arguments."

McKenna suggested the Liberal party seems to have faded under Cameron's leadership. "It's no longer a major political force on Prince Edward Island," he said. By contrast, King seems to have connected with Islanders through his folksy, straight-talking style, Desserud said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2023.

— With files from Hina Alam in Fredericton

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