In 2019, Prince Edward Island became the first province in Canada where the Green Party led the official Opposition. However, Monday’s provincial election turned the party upside down, knocking the Greens down from eight seats to just two.
The incumbent Progressive Conservatives took a majority, winning 22 of the province's 27 ridings, while the Liberals nabbed three seats. The shift might seem drastic compared to the province’s 2019 vote, Don Desserud, a Prince Edward Island political analyst, said, but the last election was an “outlier.” This year, he noted, the Greens still received a good chunk of the popular vote: 21.6 per cent, compared to the Liberals' 17.2 per cent.
In 2019, voters were looking for an alternative to the Liberals, who had been in power for 12 years, explained Desserud. Although it might have seemed like there was a newfound appreciation for Green values, it wasn’t so simple, he said.
In 2015, Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker won the party’s first seat, which was already an accomplishment, said Desserud. But 2019 was a total anomaly since P.E.I. had only ever been governed by the Liberals and the PCs, with other parties struggling to even get a seat. The NDP received one seat in 1996, the only instance of that happening until Bevan-Baker’s success.
“This is more of a norm, and as a consequence of being more of a norm, this is still a significant accomplishment for them,” he said. “It just looks bad compared to the last election, but it doesn't look so bad compared to 2015 or before that when they had no seats at all.”
This week’s election also saw another shift: the lowest voter turnout in six decades, which is notable for a province that has the highest percentage of people going to the polls countrywide. It was at 68.5 per cent this year, down from 77.66 per cent in 2019.
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The Greens’ job since the last election was to capture voters in a deeper way, explained Desserud, but COVID-19 and hurricanes Fiona and Dorian were notable hurdles. He said voters were likely sympathetic to the newly elected PCs’ challenges navigating the pandemic and decided to “give them a chance” to see what they can accomplish if they stay in government.
Although hurricane Fiona is fresh in voters’ minds, Desserud isn’t convinced the connection between the storm and climate change was hammered home during the campaign, which was criticized for being light on the issue in general.
Rather, voters looked at the storm through a preparedness lens, said Desserud. Not connecting the dots on the island’s vulnerability to climate change, as exemplified by hurricane Fiona, could have been a missed opportunity by the Greens, he said. During Fiona, the Brackley Beach and Cavendish areas of the province’s national park saw their worst damage in almost 100 years. The province also experiences problems with erosion from waves breaking down its sand and sandstone coastline. Sea ice levels, which act as a buffer for the shoreline, have been historically low.
The province is now losing an average of 30 centimetres of land per year due to rising sea levels and stronger storms fuelled by warmer oceans. Both result from climate change, which Canada plays a major hand in causing: the country was rated the 10th-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world in 2021.
The Green Party did not send a comment by publication deadline, but the party told CTV it was not prepared for the campaign, which was called six months before the planned election, and noted it had issues building momentum after its historic 2019 win. The Greens also didn’t run a full slate: two ridings didn’t have a candidate.
Leader Bevan-Baker told CBC he will comment on his future in the party soon and that while the results were a disappointment, the party is still established in the province.
Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May weighed in on the results, congratulating the candidates and stressing the need for electoral reform.
“It is now time to regroup and rebuild. Eighteen Green candidates finished second in their respective ridings, compared to only five Progressive Conservative candidates, three Liberal candidates, and only one NDP candidate,” said May. “It is clear there is strong support for Green politics in P.E.I., and the voting should reflect that, which first-past-the-post does not.”
I thought that P.E.I. was
I thought that P.E.I. was going to proportional representation. What happened to that?
So once again we see a party
So once again we see a party get a lesser number of seats than the percentage of vote that they received. We see increasingly lower voter turnout, in a province that promised electoral reform but did not do it. Canadians know the gig is up. Their vote is irrelevant, no one is willing to make the necessary changes, and our democracy is further diminished.