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RICK MACLEAN: Time, money at heart of minority

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker claps in support of his team at a reception party Tuesday night following the provincial election.
Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker. - Jason Malloy

Minority government is all about calculation.

And now that P.E.I. has decided against letting any single party run its business, Islanders are getting their first taste of what minority government is all about.

The Greens fired the first shot a few days ago, releasing a draft of something they call a “confidence and supply agreement.”

It’s a deal. And a threat.

Do the following and we’ll vote for your party in the legislature, avoiding an election. It’s as blunt as that. The implication is, if you don’t do what we want, we’ll vote against you and try to force an election.

“The relationship between the parties will be based on the principle of good faith and no surprises,” the Greens said in their document. They also talk about “mutual respect” and “maintaining their independent political identities and working in the best interests of Prince Edward Islanders.”

They want a number of things:

• Private briefings with each opposition party, prior to the government preparing its budget.

• Notification about planned “significant government appointments” before they’re made.

• Two weeks notice about any bills to be introduced.

It didn’t take long for the game to begin. There will be much more to come.

The basic calculation in a minority government situation is simple. Each party is constantly asking one question: Are we ready for an election?

The answer always begins with money. Elections are expensive and all three parties emptied their bank accounts trying to win as many seats as possible in the April election. That means there’s no money for another election soon.

That, above all, is why minority governments tend to last 18 months to two years. It takes that long to refill the election war chest with cash.

So a list of demands, even a very polite and reasonable list, is largely empty of real threats – at least a year and a half.

Then there are the concerns specific to each party.

The Greens aren’t in a hurry to head into another election any time soon. They need time to season their MLAs and staff. Being on the edge of real power is a very new thing for them. It takes time to learn how to do the job.

Fortunately for them, they can now draw good salaries and benefits during their on-the-job training. They won’t be in a rush to give that up.

The Liberals are in the penalty box. That’s what happens to a party that manages to stay in power in P.E.I. for a dozen years. Voters need time away from you, usually two terms, about eight years.

So the Liberals are in no rush to get into an election campaign. They need a new leader and time to lick their wounds. Plus, raising money is a lot tougher when you just finished third in the election.

The last thing the ruling Conservatives want is an election any time soon. They’re in power after years on the outside looking in. They like being in the big seat. And they know they have to show the voters they deserve to be trusted with a four-year majority gig.

Plus, this is their time to raise money, a much easier job when you’re in power. They’ll be keen to cooperate – for now. Besides, playing nice is their boss’s brand. Doing anything that clashes with that image is very dangerous.

Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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