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Historian looks at history of minority governments in P.E.I.

These are photos of the Coles Building
Coles Building, current location of the P.E.I. legislature
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

If Dennis King’s minority Progressive Conservatives manage to pass a budget and throne speech this legislative session, they will have accomplished a task no past P.E.I. government has even attempted.

Since Confederation, P.E.I. has seen two brief instances of governments composed of fewer than half of sitting members. But neither of these governments, the 1891 Conservative government of Neil McLeod and the 1910 Liberal government of Herbert Palmer, ever met the legislature. 

Edward MacDonald, a professor of history at UPEI, believes neither the 1891 Conservative government of Neil McLeod nor the 1910 Liberal government of Herbert Palmer was a true minority government.
Edward MacDonald, a professor of history at UPEI, believes neither the 1891 Conservative government of Neil McLeod nor the 1910 Liberal government of Herbert Palmer was a true minority government.

Edward MacDonald, a professor of history at UPEI and author of “If You’re Stronghearted: Prince Edward Island in the Twentieth Century”, believes neither was a true minority government.

“They did not meet the house and pass legislation with a minority. They did not survive a motion of confidence in the house," MacDonald said.

McLeod had the misfortune of losing three byelections to the Liberals in 1891, after three members of his government, which held a one-member majority, resigned to run federally.

The opposing Liberals ended up winning two of these byelections, while the third was won by an independent. McLeod resigned his government before facing a likely defeat in the legislature.

Similarly, the Liberals won an election in 1908 with a majority of 16 over 14 Conservatives. However, then-premier Francis Haszard resigned his seat in 1911 after being appointed to the Supreme Court.

Herbert Palmer, who served under Haszard as attorney general, was then named premier by the governing caucus. He inherited an unpopular party and a government that had been in power for 20 years. He lost a byelection in Haszard’s district to the Tories, effectively losing his majority.

Palmer’s government resigned, prompting the Island’s governor to ask the Conservatives to form a government. The Tories complied but, sensing a change in the wind, immediately called an election. 

The election proved a crushing blow for the Liberals. The Tories took 28 out of 30 seats. 

On Friday, the King government will deliver its speech from the throne. No date has been set for the introduction of a first budget. If the King government survives these motions, they will be in the uncharted waters that both Palmer and McLeod studiously avoided.

"If the government meets and they are able to survive a session of the legislature then they will have had a minority government in a sense that those other two did not," MacDonald said.

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