Voters in Prince Edward Island delivered a decisive majority to the incumbent Progressive Conservatives on Monday after an election campaign dominated by debate over heath care.
With all polls reporting, Premier Dennis King's Tories were elected in 22 of the province's 27 ridings, the Liberals won three seats and the Greens two. The Conservatives captured 55.9 per cent of the popular vote, and King was easily re-elected in his riding of Brackley-Hunter River.
King's first term in office was marked by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, two major post-tropical storms and mounting health-care woes.
"We haven't shield away from challenges over the last four years, and we're certainly not going to shy away from them for the next four years," he said late Monday to a crowd of 300 supporters bathed in blue light at a downtown Charlottetown hotel.
His party’s main challengers were the Green Party, led by Scottish-born dentist Peter Bevan-Baker, and the Liberals, led by former bureaucrat Sharon Cameron, who was acclaimed leader less than five months ago. She challenged Bevan-Baker in his riding and lost to him Monday, finishing a distant third.
At dissolution, the Conservatives held 15 seats. The Greens had eight seats, and the Liberals held four, having lost their majority to the Tories in 2019. The vote in April 2019 saw P.E.I. become the first province in Canada where the Green Party formed the official Opposition.
After the ballots were counted Monday, Bevan-Baker told supporters that the Green Party was entering a new chapter with the loss of that special status in the legislature.
“We will continue to serve Islanders — even if our new role is, as it appears to be, as third party," he said. "We’ve been there before. We made the most of it. We did some stellar work, and we will continue to do that.”
Political observers on the Island had said the electorate did not appear to be in a mood for more change when the campaign began on March 6. And there were indications the Greens were not ready for an electoral contest. At one point, a former Green member of the legislature, Hannah Bell, said the party did not do enough planning or grassroots work.
Progressive Conservatives win decisive majority in Prince Edward Island. #PEIPoli
Both the Greens and Liberals nominated only 25 candidates, two short of a full slate.
Don Desserud, a Prince Edward Island political analyst, said the slump in support for the Greens was the result of the Island's electorate going back to its traditional patterns. "This is probably a more normal result, and 2019 was the aberration," he said in an interview Monday.
Still, Desserud noted the Greens managed to win 21.6 per cent of the popular vote, compared with the Liberals' 17.2 per cent under Cameron. The Liberals' focus on criticizing the Green Party to win back voters who deserted them in 2019 had limited success, but the Liberals will form the official Opposition with one more seat than the Greens.
On Monday night, Cameron told her supporters she regretted Islanders didn't get a better chance to know her fellow candidates due to the fact King called the election six months before the province’s fixed election date. She said nothing about her political future.
“We knew going into this it was going to be a major challenge," she said.
When the campaign started, King made a point of citing the challenges his government had faced: two hurricane-force storms — Dorian in 2019 and Fiona last September — and the economic fallout caused by a potato fungus that halted exports of the Island’s most important crop, not to mention a health-care crisis.
A former journalist and spokesman for former premier Pat Binns, King called the election less than two weeks after the province landed a 10-year health-care funding deal with Ottawa worth $966 million. Among other things, the Conservatives have promised to get every Islander off the provincial wait-list for a doctor in the next two years.
The Tory strategy was to ask voters to note what they had achieved in spite of the obstacles thrown in their way. Desserud said it was as if King were saying: "If we can do that under those circumstances, imagine what we can do when we don't have to deal with these crises." That message seemed to resonate at the doorstep.
The New Democrats were never a factor in the provincial race, finishing with just 4.5 per cent of the vote. Elections P.E.I. said 68.5 per cent of the province's 109,587 registered voters cast a ballot.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2023.
— With files from Michael MacDonald and Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax and Teresa Wright in Charlottetown.