When British Columbians elected a minority government last spring that left the Green Party holding the balance of power, some wondered if the same thing might happen here in 2019.
Well, the odds got a lot better this week after Hannah Bell’s byelection victory gave the Green Party its second seat in the P.E.I. legislature.
The Greens are unlikely to form government in 2019. But if they hold their two seats and maybe add a third, they’ll be in a good position to hold the balance of power in the event of a Liberal or Conservative minority government.
In B.C., the Green Party won three seats, enough to allow them to form a coalition with second-place NDP and in a non-confidence vote in June, to bring down the minority government of Liberal Premier Christy Clark.
Historically, it seemed like a long shot this would ever happen in P.E.I. In its 144-year history, only two parties, Liberal and Conservative, have governed the province. In fact, until then-NDP leader Herb Dickieson won his seat in 1996, a third party candidate had never been elected here.
The general election of 2015 saw Green Party leader Peter Bevan Baker defeat a Liberal cabinet minister and since then, he’s steadily raised the party’s profile and credibility with his stellar performance in the legislature.
Despite Monday’s byelection result, however, Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals still have a healthy majority with 17 seats to the Tories eight. But the Greens have clearly emerged as the party with momentum heading into the next general election.
And that’s bad news for both old-line parties, as well as for the NDP that polled a distant fourth in District 11 Monday.
In a close election, as was the case in B.C., the Greens could hold the balance of power.
A four-seat plunge would leave the Liberals with 13 seats, the Conservatives 12 and the Greens two or maybe three – enough to form a coalition with the Tories to bring the Liberal government down.
It wouldn’t take many voters changing their allegiance to make this happen. There were several very close races in 2015, including District 5 where Allan McIsaac – who was tied with the Tory candidate after a judicial recount – and eventually won his seat in a coin toss. PC leader Rob Lantz lost his seat by 24 votes. In terms of popular vote, the Liberals finished just a few percentage points ahead of the Tories.
Since them, two veteran MLAs – Doug Currie and Janice Sherry – have retired and it’s likely at least a few more long-serving Liberals will not re-offer in 2019. That won’t hurt the other parties’ chances of gaining seats in those districts.
This week’s byelection result suggests for the first time in nearly a century and a half, Island voters are willing to take a serious look at non-traditional parties.
If voters are still cranky heading in to the next election over hot-button issues such as government’s handling of proportional representation, doctor shortages and mental health services, or if the economy sputters, opposition parties may take some seats away from the Liberals.
Would it be enough to give the Greens the balance of power in 2019? After Monday night, it seems like more than a possibility.
- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.