CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - P.E.I.’s Opposition Leader James Aylward is stepping down as leader of the PC Party, less than a year after taking the helm of the party.
Aylward made the announcement Monday, flanked by five of his seven caucus colleagues, at an emotional news conference in the Coles Building in Charlottetown.
Aylward said he had come to the decision over the weekend and acknowledged that his public support in recent political polls had been a disappointment.
“It has become clear to me over the last couple of months that, despite my best efforts, I have not been able to make a strong connection with Islanders,” Aylward said.
“With an election coming next year, I want to provide the great PC Party with the best opportunity to win.”
At several points during the news conference, Aylward broke down in tears. He briefly stopped speaking to compose himself as he thanked his family members for their support,
He said he made the decision to resign in spite of the “full, 100 per cent, unqualified support” of his caucus.
"It's not about one person, it's not about one ego. It's for the whole team. I strongly believe we have a team of committed party members and caucus members that want to improve lives for Islanders," Aylward said.
Peter McKenna, chairman of UPEI’s department of political science, said the timing of the announcement was a surprise.
"Typically, leaders of provincial political parties usually resign after they've had an election. We're probably six, seven months out from an election, so it seems odd that he would be stepping aside at this particular timeframe," McKenna said.
"It's a bit of a headscratcher in that sense."
McKenna said the increasing popularity of the Green Party likely did not help Aylward’s attempts to appeal to Islanders.
"Voters on P.E.I are getting tired, I think, of the traditional mainline parties. They want something different, something very different," he said.
"If you're a leader of the mainline political parties these days, you're in trouble, you're in political hot water.”
Eight years of party drama
Jan 30, 2013 - Olive Crane steps down as PC party leader
Feb. 4, 2013 - Steven Myers is named interim party leader.
February 2015 - Rob Lantz wins the leadership of the PC Party
October 2015 - Jamie Fox is elected interim leader of the PC Party
October 2017 - James Aylward becomes leader of the PC Party
September 2018 - Aylward resigns as PC Leader, citing low polling numbers
Aylward will stay on as leader of the party until a new leader is elected. He pledged to run in the next election in his district of Stratford-Keppoch.
In a media statement, PC Party president Charles Blue said he will be calling together the party’s executive to plan for a leadership convention.
“Given the current political climate and proximity to the call of a provincial election, I expect that process will need to unfold very quickly," Blue said in the statement.
Aylward was first elected as MLA for Stratford-Kinlock in 2011 and was re-elected in 2015. Aylward became the fifth leader of the PC Party in five years after besting Rustico-Emerald MLA Brad Trivers for the leadership post in October of 2017. He won by a vote of 1,685 to 1,107.
However, since then the PC Party has seen its support slide in the polls, amid a surge by the Green Party of P.E.I.
Since Aylward assumed the leadership of the party, the PCs have dropped in public support from 28 per cent to 20 per cent, according to opinion polling by Corporate Research Associates.
The Liberal Party of P.E.I. has also seen its public support decline from 45 per cent in August of 2017 to 35 per cent in August of 2018. The Green Party of P.E.I. has seen its public support rise from 18 per cent to 35 per cent over the same period.
Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said the news was “somewhat” surprising but not entirely unexpected.
"I'd heard rumblings that this might be happening but only rumblings," Bevan-Baker said.
He described Aylward as a leader who “worked incredibly hard.”
"We disagreed on a whole bunch of things over the years. But, I always found James to be a thoroughly decent guy," Bevan-Baker said.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan issued a short statement in response to Aylward’s announcement.
“I recognize James’ time and efforts as leader of his party and his commitment to public service. As premier, and on behalf of government, I wish James and his family well,” MacLauchlan said in an emailed statement.