The Prince Edward Island Liberal Party (officially the Prince Edward Island Liberal Association) is a major political party in the province of Prince Edward Island, Canada. The PEI Liberals are aligned with the federal Liberal Party of Canada. The party is led by Wade MacLauchlan, a former president of the University of Prince Edward Island.
It was created when PEI was a British colony by Reformers who agitated for the system of responsible government. This was granted by the British crown to the colony in 1851.
George Coles was its dominant figure in its first decades. While initially supportive of Canadian Confederation, Coles and the Liberals soured on the project, and it wasn't until 1873 that the island joined Canada as a means of relieving the PEI government's severe debts.
The early party supported the abolition of school fees, and a resolution to the "Land Question" that divided the province. The Liberals supported land reform through the state acquisition of large landed estates. These estates were broken up and turned over to tenants and squatters.
The Liberals have been one of only two parties forming government on the island since 1851, the other being the Conservatives. The Liberals have formed government more often, but not in recent times. In practice, there is little to distinguish the two parties from each other: both lean towards the centre of the political spectrum. The Liberals being slightly to the left and the Conservatives (Tories) slightly to the right.
Traditionally, the Tories have done better among Protestant voters, while Liberals have had more support from Catholics. Politics on the island, however, has never been sectarian, and both parties have always had voters and members from both populations. Indeed, it has been the custom until recently for a Liberal incumbent of one denomination to be opposed by a Tory challenger of the same denomination and vice versa. This had tended to minimise religious sectarianism within the parties. The Liberals have also traditionally enjoyed the support of the province's small Acadian population concentrated in Prince County at the west end of the island. Conservative support has tended to be greater on the eastern half of the island.
In the past forty years the most significant figures in the party have been Alexander B. Campbell and, later, Joe Ghiz. Liberal governments in the 1960s and 1970s under Campbell supported diversification of the province's agricultural economy. Government incentives were provided to attract manufacturing and tourism. Under Ghiz in the 1980s, the Liberals opposed free trade between Canada and the United States, and the federal Tory government's decision to close a military base on the island. The party's enthusiasm for economic intervention in the economy had waned since the Campbell years.
In addition to winning two general elections under Joseph A. Ghiz, Canada's first provincial premier of non-European ancestry, the PEI Liberal Party won a subsequent election in 1993 under Catherine Callbeck, the first woman to be elected as a provincial premier in Canada.
After more than ten years in opposition (the last four under leader Robert Ghiz), the Liberals defeated the Progressive Conservatives (under Pat Binns) in the 2007 election. The Liberals won re-election in 2011.