Voters in Prince Edward Island choose a new government today. They could end up making history in provincial politics and lead to a potential realignment on the federal scene.
P.E.I. has only had Liberal and Conservative governments since it joined Confederation in 1873.
Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan was consistently ahead in popular support from 2015, when he was elected, to 2018.
But something unusual has happened in this fairly consistent province. The P.E.I. Green Party and its leader, Peter Bevan-Baker, have led in virtually every poll in the last year.
MQO Research’s poll taken from April 11 to 16 shows Bevan-Baker’s Greens with 40 per cent of popular support, followed by Dennis King’s Progressive Conservatives at 29 per cent and MacLauchlan’s Liberals at 26 per cent.
Narrative Research’s April 12 to 15 poll has Green support at 35 per cent, followed by the PCs (32 per cent) and Liberals (29 per cent).
Mainstreet Research’s April 14 to 17 poll lists Green support at 35.4 per cent, with the PCs (30.5 per cent) and Liberals (29.2 per cent) not too far behind.
If the polls are correct, the first Green government in Canada – and North America – could be elected in the home of, appropriately, Anne of Green Gables.
That’s rather stunning.
P.E.I. has long been a two-party legislature. It barely has a history of electing third-party candidates, other than former NDP leader Dr. Herb Dickieson in 1996.
The Greens were founded in 2005 and this is only the party’s fourth general election. Bevan-Baker, a dentist, became the province’s first Green MLA in the 2015 election after nine failed attempts federally and provincially (in P.E.I. and Ontario). He was joined by Hannah Bell, a former executive director of the P.E.I. Business Women’s Association, who won a 2017 byelection.
What’s going on?
It’s part of the global trend to reject establishment parties and the politics-as-usual mantra. Canada witnessed this with late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley and Quebec CAQ Premier Francois Legault. International examples include U.S. President Donald Trump, Italy’s Five Star Movement, Poland’s Law and Justice party, Ukrainian president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky and the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom.
It also signals that Canadians are gradually accepting the possibility of electing Green politicians. Four provinces (P.E.I., British Columbia, Ontario and New Brunswick) have Green MLAs or MPPs. Electoral success on the Island could open the door to other provincial governments as part of a new Green shift.
Another beneficiary would be leader Elizabeth May and her Green Party of Canada.
The federal Greens haven’t been as successful as their provincial cousins. May remains the only Green politician elected to Parliament. Ex-Liberal MP Blair Wilson and ex-NDP MP Bruce Hyer sat as Greens in Parliament (although the former was unofficial, since he crossed the floor during summer recess and Canada went straight to the polls in 2008). Both lost their re-election bids.
May could use a P.E.I. Green government to her advantage. It would prove the Greens aren’t a single-issue party (the environment), and that the party’s policy ideas on businesses, health care, education and electoral democracy have broad-based appeal.
It would enhance the possibility of winning federal seats in P.E.I., several more in B.C. (May’s home province) and elsewhere.
It would also be “validation,” as Ottawa radio host Mark Sutcliffe put it to me this week, that Greens are serious about forming governments provincially and federally.
For the federal Liberals and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, this would be a political disaster. Their popularity numbers have disintegrated due to the SNC-Lavalin controversy and a distaste with the federal carbon tax.
The Tories are ahead in all federal opinion polls and the Liberals have lost progressive support, according to the polls, to the resurgent NDP. They simply can’t afford to also bleed support to the Green Party, which doesn’t perfectly fit on the left-right political axis but is understood to be more left-leaning.
If P.E.I. goes Green today, Trudeau the red Liberal could be singing the blues this fall.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.