When it comes to provincial elections, Canada’s smallest province doesn’t often make headlines, but Prince Edward Island’s 2019 election delivered change in several ways. For the first time since 2007, the Progressive Conservative Party under Dennis King will form a government with twelve seats. For the first time in over a century, PEI has a minority government. Premier-designate King only recently won the leadership of the PC Party in February. However, he has a history in politics as the former director of communications and executive assistant to long-time PC Premier Pat Binns.
Making history, the Green Party, under leader former dentist Peter Bevan-Baker, will form the Official Opposition with nine seats, the first Green Party in Canada to do so. The Liberals, in power for thirteen years under outgoing Premier Wade MacLauchlan, dropped to third place with five seats. Liberals were trying to win a fourth term in office for the first time since the 1970s. MacLauchlan lost his seat in the legislature.
Islanders also narrowly voted “no” in a province-wide referendum on whether to adopt electoral reform in the form of mixed-member proportional representation.
Unlike other recent provincial election campaigns in Canada, this campaign was not a highly-charged partisan affair. The one leader’s debate failed to generate any strong disagreements amongst party leaders. Even though outgoing Premier MacLauchlan’s Liberals faced accusations over gaming regulations and the provincial nominee program around attracting immigrants to the province, the biggest electoral issue they faced appeared to be a desire for change after three terms in office.
Another Conservative Win
Tonight’s result also means another province flipped from red to blue. PEI now joins Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and New Brunswick in electing conservative parties, with Quebec’s CAQ sharing similar small-c conservative characteristics.
While PEI may also fall into the “blue” column, Premier-designate King has said he sees himself as more of a “Red Tory, more in the middle as opposed to right or left,” in the mould of a Joe Clark. King also said he does not see PEI joining other conservative Premiers across Canada in their constitutional challenge over the carbon tax (although during the campaign he did call it a “punitive tax”).
King needs support from either the Greens or Liberals to govern but there doesn’t appear to be a lot of suspense on this issue. Green Leader Bevan-Baker already said he looks forward to working productively with the PCs over the next four years, indicating the PCs may have a reliable partner to work with in minority, even if nothing is formalized on paper.
What Does this Mean?
There are a few takeaways from tonight’s result. First, PEI’s traditional two-party system, rotating between the PCs and Liberals, was thrown into disarray with the emergence of the Green Party. Second, Liberal and NDP votes shifted dramatically to the Greens, demonstrating brand loyalty amongst progressive voters may be diminishing. Third, tonight’s Green results demonstrate Green Party candidates can get elected at the provincial level across Canada and, like BC, hold the balance of power in legislatures.
Finally, while an election in Canada’s smallest province may not be a strong indicator of future behaviour for the federal election this October, tonight’s result demonstrates voters are willing to vote for change when they feel a government has run its course. Virtually every incumbent government across Canada from BC to PEI has been defeated since 2015, with Newfoundland and Labrador’s election coming later this year.