Yesterdays election on Prince Edward Island ended up delivering on the drama that many of us expected, even if the result wasn’t what many had anticipated. The result of the 27-seat election took much longer to decide then it did just the week before in the 87 seat Alberta election, which was called within 40 minutes. But on the Island, they’re heading into uncharted waters in more ways than one:
Islanders have elected a Minority Government, with the Progressive Conservatives winning the most seats at 12, exactly one seat shy of a majority. The PEI Greens will form the Official Opposition, after ending up with 8 seats, a record result for any Green Party in North America. The former governing Liberals have been relegated to third place, holding onto 6 seats, with Leader and outgoing Premier Wade MacLauchlan losing his seat. The New Democrats faced a wipe out, not wining a single seat, while losing about 60% of their vote share from the previous election, where they had over 10%.
But in a twist to this story, the election is not officially over yet. Due to the tragedy of the passing of the Green candidate Josh Underhay in Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park and his young, the vote was not held in that riding yesterday. It will now be held as a separate by-election, one where the fate of the PCs will be front and centre. PEI just had a re-drawing of their ridings, so this is actually a brand-new riding for this election made up of parts of the former ridings of Tracadie-Hillsborough Park and York-Oyster Bed. Both of those ridings were strong Liberal ridings last time, with the PCs pretty far behind. Given the PCs weaker performance in Charlottetown in this campaign, and the Greens strength there, it may not be very likely that this seat will make number 13 for the PCs and put them into majority territory, but that’s why we have elections. When this by-election is called, it will be one of the likes that the Island has never seen before.
Looking at each of the parties from last nights vote, there is some good news for some while band news for other. Starting with the outgoing government, last nights result is a historic loss, but not unexpected. I would argue that thanks to their organizational strength and full campaign warchest, they avoided what could have been a much worse fate. Falling to six seats is hard, but it could have been worse (and was for most of the night). For the Federal Liberals, this result is probably as close to the worst-case scenario as they could have expected. The worst would be a PC majority, and that’s still in play. Another Liberal Premier is gone, putting the total of Liberal governments down to two in the whole country. And to make it worse, it went PC, putting another ally of Andrew Scheer into government, assuming PC Leader Dennis King can find enough votes to get things done. And to add to the pain is the fact that according to all reports, the Trudeau Liberal brand was a drag on the Island Liberals. Some local new reports laid this out very well, and it doesn’t bode will for the federal Liberals going forward.
For the Conservatives and their federal cousins, tonight was good for the Blue Team, as they now look to have another government. Similar to the Liberals, it was the ground game, organization and money that helped to push the PCs over the finish line, showing that these things matter in close campaigns. But the good news for the federal Conservatives seems to end with having a mostly like-minded ally in Charlottetown. In this race, the PCs ran mostly a more low-key campaign, trying to be seen as the co-operator and someone who can work with anyone. There was no hard-right turn in this party, no railing against carbon pricing, no threats of lawsuits against NGOs or activists. They ran a very moderate campaign for the most part, one that doesn’t match up to the bluster of Andrew Scheer and his other provincial cohorts. Will that remain the same? Maybe, but without a natural or a right of centre ally in their legislature, I don’t think the Island PCs can afford to follow the path of their federal cousins too far.
For the Greens, they made history last night, just not the history that they thought they would. Despite falling short of government for now, they are still the first ever Green Party in North America to find itself in a position like this, as the lead Opposition party. Electing eight Green MLAs is a breakthrough to be proud of, and winning seats not just in Charlottetown, but sweeping Summerside and grabbing a couple rural seats showed good growth to be proud of. But in my view their downfall in the end was the lack of ground game, and this was going to be the interesting test of this campaign. If the Greens were going to win it all, it was going to have to come with people walking themselves through the doors to vote, because the Greens simply didn’t have the resources and peoplepower to help push them there. You can probably pick out a few seats that went either Liberal or PC that they might have won had they had those resources. This election showed why organization matters and while sometimes lightning will strike and it will all fall into place without it, that is the rarest of occasions. And in retrospect, this might turn out to be the best result for the Greens in the end. Their six new caucus members will have a chance to learn more, grow and be in a much better position to potentially govern later than if they had just been thrown into ministries with very little to no elected experience. Having this time as the Official Opposition can help the Greens on the Island build the impression in the minds of Islanders that they are ready next time.
For the Federal Greens, while this result will not hurt their prospects federally, it won’t help them greatly either. The party won’t be winning seats on PEI in the next Federal Election and having eight Green MLA’s on PEI won’t elect MPs in Toronto, Quebec or BC. But what this will do is put the Greens on more similar footing to other parties in the sense that they are now building an elected track record, for better or worse. You now have three provincial Green parties with significant potentially power in provincial legislatures, but as all the other parties know, that can be a double edge sword. Yes, the Federal Greens can point to the good decisions, but will they be able to defend the bad ones when they are made and are used against them? We will see but, in that sense, you can say that Greens have finally arrived.
And for the Orange Teams, both on PEI and Federally, this result should bring about some serious reflection about the future. The PEI NDP went harder left than before and lost over 60% of their vote. They didn’t win a seat last time, but they had over 10% of the vote. This time? Less than 4%, with Dr. Herb Dickieson in the end being the lone competitive candidate, finishing second in a tight race. Leader Joe Byrne came a distant fourth in his riding, which also said a lot. This was a watershed campaign on PEI, as it was ripe for a breakthrough for third parties. A wave came in, and while the Green rode it to the Official Opposition, the NDP was wiped out by it and found itself on the rocks, without a seat. This is the same thing that we saw in New Brunswick last year, when the party took a hard left and ended up in a similar position in a similar environment. This should be noted by the Federal NDP folks, as we have now seen two provincial elections where voters looking for change and something new looked right past the New Democrats and looked at Greens instead. I’m not saying that will be the trend federally, but I think they need to take a critical look at why that happened in those provinces and what lessons they can take away from.
As mentioned at the start, while last nights results were historic, the race is still not over. We’ll keep an eye on that by-election when it’s called but regardless of what happens in it, PEI has entered a new era of provincial politics. There are interesting times ahead, and we’ll see where it all leads.