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WAYNE YOUNG: Change or status quo?

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, shown recently in the provincial legislature, spent more than an hour Tuesday night speaking to the proposed legislation on electoral reform. Also shown in the picture is MLA Brad Trivers.
Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is shown recently in the provincial legislature. - Ryan Ross

Island’s political landscape drawing national attention as possible birthplace of PR

A poll released this week did little to discourage the notion that voters are continuing to take a hard look at the Green Party as an alternative to traditional governing parties in Prince Edward Island.

That notion is generating a lot of interest, not only here but across the country. A Canadian Press story last week that raised the possibility Islanders could soon elect Canada’s first Green government was picked up by both The Globe and Mail and the National Post.

It was published before the latest poll – one that suggests the Greens continue to hold a narrow lead among decided voters – was released on Tuesday.

In the CP story, Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker said after three years of building the Green brand, Islanders now consider the party “a comfortable alternative.” People are discontented and dismayed with conventional politics and they’re looking for change, he said.

While I agree the Greens have come a long way in a relatively short time, I’m not convinced they’re on the cusp of an electoral upset. If anything, I’d say the latest CRA poll confirms all political parties have some heavy lifting to do before the next election, probably next spring.

A mere percentage point separates the Greens from the Liberals (37 to 36 per cent), and they’re both well ahead of the Progressive Conservatives at 20 per cent and the NDP at seven. But the same poll suggests that nearly one in four voters are undecided. That’s hardly surprising, given the number of moving parts leading up to the next election.

The PCs are in the midst of a leadership race after James Alyward’s departure amid low polling numbers in September. A new leader will be elected in February and that should give the party a bump in the polls – perhaps enough to make it an interesting three-way race.

In addition to building their brand, the upstart Greens must continue to build at the district level if they hope to convert opinion poll support into actual wins on election day. And, like the other parties, they’ll have to build up their war chest to mount an effective Island-wide campaign.

Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be ready to campaign as soon as the writ is dropped – especially since the premier gets to decide the date. There’s been some speculation he’d delay the fixed election date of October 2019 until 2020 so as not to conflict with a fall federal election. But unless the polls numbers get a lot worse or the economy tanks, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t seek a new mandate before next summer.

One other thing about the next election – it will include a referendum question asking voters if P.E.I. should change its voting system from first-past-the-post to a form of proportional representation. An article in The Toronto Star observed that if the referendum vote is Yes, the Cradle of Confederation would also become the birthplace of PR.

With the possibility of something truly historic happening, this election certainly has national appeal and TROC (The Rest of Canada) will be watching. Will we opt for change or keep the status quo?

My guess is that within the next six months, Island voters will let everyone know our decision.

- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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