The announcements came from opposite ends of the country, but the messages were almost the same. In British Columbia, Robert Skelly resigned as leader of the provincial New Democratic Party because “the problem with politicians is that sometimes they stay on too long.” In Prince Edward Island, Conservative leader James Lee announced his resignation saying, “It was time for a change—for me personally and for the party.” In fact, voters made the decision for both men. Lee had been expected to quit since April, when he lost a provincial election—and his own Charlottetown seat—to the Liberals under Joseph Ghiz. And observers had predicted Skelly’s departure before his party was routed by Social Credit Premier William Vander Zalm on Oct. 22.
For Skelly, the election loss was especially bitter. Before Vander Zalm succeeded William Bennett as B.C.’s premier in July, the NDP had led in the polls for two years. Earnest and lowkey, Skelly offered a clear alternative to the tough-minded Bennett. But Vander Zalm’s leadership convention victory upset the NDP strategy. Displaying more verve than the uninspiring Skelly, the popular millionaire horticulturist billed himself as a conciliator who would get the province working again. Nor did Skelly’s image improve during the election campaign, when he suffered bouts of on-camera jitters. The result: a 47-to-22-seat Socred victory.
Last week Skelly said that his leadership was not a major factor in the defeat. “I gave it my best shot,” said the 43-year-old teacher, elected leader in May, 1984. “I had already made a decision that if we didn’t win this election, then I would step down.” Skelly will stay on until an NDP leadership convention, expected next spring, and will continue to represent his Vancouver Island riding of Alberni. His likely successor: former Vancouver mayor Michael Harcourt, who won a seat in the legislature last month.
In Prince Edward Island, former education minister Leone Bagnall was cited as one of the possible successors to Lee, the Island’s premier for four years. Lee himself had earlier written to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to seek a Senate appointment. But last week Lee accepted a 10-year posting to the Charlottetown-based Canadian Pension Commission. His salary: $57,000-$67,000 annually.
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