This year the election that most Canadians will be focused on will be the big Federal election in the Fall, but this isn’t true all over the country. Last week Alberta’s provincial election kicked off, setting up a mid-April vote to see if Rachel Notley or Jason Kenney will lead the next government of the province. The Alberta race is one that many Canadians are watching, for very good reason. But its another provincial election that was called last night that might fly under the radar for most Canadians, yet might deliver one of the biggest stories of the political year:
Yes, Prince Edward Islanders are off to the polls, with election day coming on April 23rd. This is a campaign that promises to be different for two big reasons. The first is that there will be another referendum on electoral reform attached to this provincial vote, which will present advocates of changes to our voting system another chance to change the course on this issue.
Normally that kind of referendum would garner more attention, but I would argue that it will be the sideshow to the main event in this campaign, and that’s who will form government. Going into the campaigns, the polls are in a place we’ve never really seen them in Canadian history:
Going into the campaign the PEI Greens, led by Dentist Peter Bevan-Baker, at 38% in the polls. That marks a doubt-digit lead over both the PC’s and incumbent Liberals, both who sit at 27%, while the NDP sits at 4%. The Greens have been riding high in the polls in the province for a year now and after winning their first seat ever on the Island in the last election, with Bevan-Baker’s win, they also won a by-election to bring their seat count to two.
This race will be one to watch because while the Greens go into this campaign pretty far ahead, the party has never elected more than three members in any provincial legislature and has never even formed the Official Opposition, let alone won government. And unlike many first-time governments, this party is not made up of many people who have ever been in government. As a result, if they won, this would be the greenest government formed since World War II in more ways than one.
Also, it’s interesting to watch this race because of where it is happening. PEI has one of the most stable, two-party electoral histories that you’ll find in Canada. They have rarely elected third-party members to their legislature, let alone to government; a Green win would mark the first time in the Islands history that they haven’t elected a PC or a Liberal government. As a result, I doubt that many people would have picked PEI as the place the Greens would potentially first form a government.
But at the same time, the idea that the Greens would do well in PEI makes some sense. In some ways, the Island is ahead of the curve on some environmental measures. For example, did you know that according to the National Energy Board, as of 2016, 99% of the Islands electricity generated on the Island came from renewables, mostly from wind? Wind actually supplied 98.1% of that 99% in 2016. Compare that to 2005, where the province generated 91.4% of it’s electricity generated on the Island came from oil and gas generators. The Island also has connections to New Brunswick through underwater cables. Ironically according to the NEB, PEI actually imports a large percentage of its consumed electricity from New Brunswick while it exports a significant portion of its locally produced renewable electricity back to the mainland.
This is all to say that while this seems like an odd phenomenon, maybe it makes a lot of sense. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch for political observers across the country. While the Greens have the lead in the polls, they lack the resources and volunteers that the Liberals and PCs have, so we’ll see what effect that has in this campaign. Also, federally for the Greens, could a win in PEI boost their fortunes in the region during a Federal election? We’ll have to see, but it’s very possible that a post-election honeymoon glow on a Bevan-Baker government could be a boon for Elizabeth May and her team. Conversely, if the party falls short, it could have a reverse effect.
So as the writ has now been dropped, we’ll be watching this scene play out on the East Coast. By the end of April, after the votes in Alberta and PEI, the Canadian political landscape could look quite different, which will undoubtedly have an effect on the big election to come in the Fall. It’s time that the rubber hits the road on all of our best educated guesses, and something tells me that the red dust will fly around PEI.