Islanders head to the polls after Easter Weekend for a potentially consequential election. Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced the election, claiming PEI could be a “beacon.” However, his claim may be more valid than he intended. MacLauchlan hopes to set PEI history with the Liberals’ fourth-straight election victory (his second), which would be a first for the Island. However, despite a strong economy, the Liberals face a popular challenger in the provincial Greens, who lead in the polls. The status quo may not last and Canada could elect its first Green Party government.
After over a decade of Liberal dominance, change appears to be brewing. With the Progressive Conservatives struggling with leadership challenges and the NDP having never been in political contention, the Green Party could win its first-ever provincial election – and make PEI a “beacon” for Canada.
Could PEI’s Greens win the party’s first election?
Green Party leader and dentist-turned-politician Peter Bevan-Baker has led solidly in provincial polling since August 2018. In February, his lead jumped to 11 points. While Bevan-Baker has nine failed elections under his belt – and remains the sole Green MLA in the Legislature – he has slowly built a coalition of Charlottetown progressives and voters disaffected with the Liberals’ economic message. His left-leaning platform, supporting a carbon tax and increased funding for social housing, is gaining traction in a province of mostly centrist and disproportionately middle-aged or elderly voters.
Despite the Greens’ popularity, the provincial Liberals have a strong record. The province is forecast to lead the country’s economic growth in 2019. Unemployment hit record lows in 2018. The province presented its first surplus budget since 2008 last year. But PEI’s voting traditions, MacLauchlan’s unpopularity, and voter exhaustion may turn opinion against the provincial Grits.
Even if the Green Party’s popularity declines as the election nears, Prince Edward Island could also set provincial history with its first minority government since 1890.
Where are the Progressive Conservatives?
Prince Edward Island’s government shifts regularly between the PCs and Liberals. A 50-year trend since 1966 shows parties in the province will win three elections, then lose. The only exception was a slim Liberal victory in 1978 – the Tories won the following year. Historically, the PCs should win this election, but turmoil racks their party.
In the last election, PEI’s PCs increased their seat count, but then-leader Rob Lantz lost in his riding. After James Aylward won the leadership in 2017, he resigned less than a year later after poor polling. In February 2019, Dennis King won the PC leadership.
While King is optimistic about his chances, the PCs, with little leadership recognition, are unlikely to fare well. Polling consistently ranks the PCs third behind the Greens and Liberals.
The NDP’s leader, Joe Byrne, is running on a progressive platform, but told reporters he was unsure the party would “field a full slate of candidates.” The NDP, historically, fares poorly in the province.
What does this election mean?
If the Liberals can maintain their hold on PEI’s provincial legislature, it will be one of the few jurisdictions not under significant political upheaval in recent years. Canada, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon have all seen changes in seemingly steady leadership in the past four years.
With a new Conservative government in New Brunswick, losing another Liberal provincial ally will strike a blow to Trudeau’s 2015 Liberal consensus. Trudeau’s election victory in 2015 was built, in part, on a clean sweep in Atlantic Canada. This foundation might not be as reliable in 2019 and come April 23, he may have another premier challenger on his hands: this time from the political left. This could create more animosity within the Council of the Federation. British Columbia and Prince Edward Island will likely call for stronger environmental policies while Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario call for more lax policies.
While MacLauchlan called Prince Edward Island a “beacon,” he may not have known how true his words could ring for federal Liberals in Ottawa keeping tabs on political developments across the country. StrategyCorp will watch closely as the election progresses and see whether voters in Atlantic Canada continue to shake the status quo – or maintain it.