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WAYNE YOUNG: Voter volatility

In today’s political climate, front-running Greens could be king-makers . . . or kings

Across Canada, voters are rejecting incumbent governments and seem willing – as happened in Quebec this week – to take a chance on something entirely new.

And that’s potentially more bad news for P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan as he ponders a date for the next provincial election in hopes of a renewed mandate for a Liberal government that’s been in power since 2007.

On Monday, Quebeckers unceremoniously tossed out Philippe Couillard’s Liberals and handed a huge majority to the Coalition Avenir Quebec – a right-wing party that didn’t exist a decade ago. A week earlier, New Brunswick voters opted for a minority government but the results were so close, they’re still trying to figure out which party will actually lead the new administration – Liberals or Progressive Conservatives. Both are vying for the support of the Green Party, which elected three members, and the PCs are also talking with the People’s Alliance – a new party that also won three seats – about striking an alliance so they can form a coalition government.

The latest Liberal setbacks come less than three months after Ontario voters sent Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals to the sidelines and handed PC Doug Ford a majority government. And just a year ago, Christy Clark’s Liberal government was toppled in B.C. after it fell one seat short of a majority. The NDP formed an alliance with the Green Party to end the Liberals 16-year rule.

Meanwhile, back in P.E.I., the Liberals are locked in a virtual tie with the upstart Greens in the latest opinion polls.

MacLauchlan doesn’t have to call an election until next fall but to avoid conflict with a federal election, he’ll likely go earlier, probably next spring.

With the Greens taking root in neighbouring New Brunswick, the lofty polling numbers Island Greens have been recording become harder to dismiss. Having already smashed the glass ceiling for third parties on P.E.I. by electing two MLAs, the Green Party seems well positioned to make even more history whenever Islanders return to the polls.

The Greens could hold the balance of power in N.B. The party is already playing that role in B.C. Peter Bevan-Baker’s Green Party in P.E.I. could easily follow suit.

That scenario would become more likely if the Liberals and PCs win roughly the same number of seats. But the Tories will have to find a new leader first. James Aylward resigned last month because the party’s polling numbers had stalled around 20 per cent and his own leadership numbers were even worse. So far, there’s hasn’t been a stampede of candidates lining up for the job, at least not publicly.

Perhaps former premier Pat Binns could be spirited out of retirement to get the party back on track. It worked in 1979 when Angus MacLean, a veteran campaigner and long-time MP, contested and won the party leadership, then won the next election and ended a 13-year Liberal reign. He was 65. Binns – a rookie MLA – was in his first cabinet.

If the Tories can regain some traction, the Greens could easily be king-makers in the next election. But in a close three-way fight, could the party do even better?

Voter volatility and a wave of change in other provinces suggests that’s not entirely out of the question.

In today’s political climate, it seems, anything is possible.

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

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