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Seeing Green: What led candidates to sweep Summerside polls in 2019 election

Lynne Lund, District 21, left, Steve Howard, District 22, and Trish Altass, District 23 shortly after their 2019 provincial election wins.
Lynne Lund, District 21, left, Steve Howard, District 22, and Trish Altass, District 23 shortly after their 2019 provincial election wins. - Millicent McKay
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. —

Out with the old and in with the new.

That was the message delivered by voters in Summerside-area Districts 21, 22 and 23 in Tuesday’s P.E.I. provincial election.

Not only did the Green Party defeat three Liberal cabinet ministers, they took every single poll inside the City of Summerside in the process. 

“Absolutely people are looking for change,” said Trish Altass, the new Green MLA for District 23: Tyne Valley – Sherbrooke,” which includes the northwest corner of Summerside.

Jill MacIntyre, (left) volunteer co-ordinator for Districts 21 and 23, and new MLA for District 23, Trish Altass, react to final results of Tuesday night’s provincial election.
Jill MacIntyre, (left) volunteer co-ordinator for Districts 21 and 23, and new MLA for District 23, Trish Altass, react to final results of Tuesday night’s provincial election.

District 23 also includes a rural area west of Summerside, where Progressive Conservative candidate Hilton MacLennan won three of the district’s nine polls.

“It wasn’t going to be that flip-flop between two choices. I tried to give people something to vote for rather than vote against,” Altass said.

“People are tired of the same patterns by government, inauthentic consultations where people don’t feel listened to or valued – Islanders are ready to expect government to do better.”

But what was it that the Green Party (and the Summerside candidates) had that led to the green sweep in the city?

Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of P.E.I., deconstructed the question.

“The norm is a party, let’s say the Liberals, is in power for a couple of terms and then you go and vote for the PCs because you’re fed up. But are people fed up because it’s the same parties every time, or are they fed up by the same style of politics?” he asked.

“People are not just tired of a party, but also by the way the parties treat each other,” Desserud said.

Steve Howard, the incoming MLA for District 22: Summerside – South Drive, agreed the people were looking for a new way to do politics.

“I thought the younger demographic was who we really needed to get engaged to win, but what I learned when at the door was the older voters, who were fed up with what they had seen over the years. Some of those people lived through the era of patronage and still associated that with the old party ways.”

Lynne Lund, the new MLA for District 21: Summerside – Wilmot, said the key to the Summerside-area campaigns was listening.

“We weren’t there to deliver a campaign slogan. We went out on a listening campaign and that resonated with people. We didn’t have talking points, we asked people what they were concerned about what issues matter to them.”

Leader’s Impact

The Green Party put forward an attractive, believable leader, said Desserud.

“They had a comprehensive set of policies that range from environmentalist, which you expect the party to have, to fiscal prudence and support for small businesses, and the combination of working together to find solutions to the environmental problems rather than governments coming in and regulating them.”

That message resonated well with more-urban voters, the professor said.

Taking it further than provincial leadership, Lund said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the SNC-Lavalin Affair and Jody Wilson-Raybould were brought up by constituents.

“Federal politics came up quite a bit, which is uncommon. But it all came back to good government. People were tired of seeing politicians try to control good people.”

Looking ahead

Desserud said he wasn’t surprised by the riding breakdown.

“It could have gone in so many different directions. Each scenario was quite probable.”

The election also saw sitting cabinet ministers and the premier lose their ridings.

“When a government gets past its ‘best before date’, then those who are the face of that government often take the brunt of the criticism. It’s the natural order of electoral politics.”

Going forward everything will depend on how well the minority government performs.

“And what role people perceive the Green Party. They don’t want to be seen as obstructionist, but they have to be careful because their role as the official opposition is to hold government accountable, they can’t be too cozy,” said Desserud, “So, they’ll have to figure out how to be an effective opposition party against a minority government.”

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