A potent new force is growing in strength on the province’s political landscape. Hannah Bell’s stunning byelection victory in Charlottetown-Parkdale showed the Green Party is for real and that voters are increasingly comfortable with leader Peter Bevan-Baker and his strong supporting cast.
The Greens doubled their presence in the legislature with Bell joining her party leader on the opposition benches. The Liberals didn’t face any threat to their comfortable majority, but are reduced to 17 seats, with the Progressive Conservatives remaining at eight and Greens now with two.
Monday evening started off with a shock when the advance poll released shortly after 7 p.m. suggested a tight, three-way race was about to unfold. Progressive Conservative Melissa Hilton had a narrow lead with 384 votes, four more than Liberal Bob Doiron’s 380 while the Greens had a stunning 341. Mike Redmond trailed with 87 and it only got worse as the night progressed for the NDP leader.
As more polls slowly trickled in, Bell pulled ahead for a comfortable win – finishing with 35.4 per cent of votes cast and a plurality of 157 votes - while the Liberals and Tories battled to the end to decide second and third place.
The advance poll is usually where the well-oiled Liberal party machine shows its strength by rolling up enough votes to carry the day. But this time the Liberals fell far short of turning out its supporters. It was a clear indication that the rest of the evening would not go well for the Liberals, or Tories, and especially the NDP.
The expected fracturing of support between the NDP and Greens – the two parties which strongly favour proportional representation as the answer to electoral reform - failed to materialize. Voters seeking change rallied around the Green standard. The effective attacks by Bevan-Baker in the legislature, taking government to task for abandoning the plebiscite result last fall, obviously resonated with voters.
It was a stinging rebuke for Premier Wade MacLauchlan who saw his Liberal stronghold fall to a third party. The premier felt voters would reward his government for its economic successes but apparently, lingering anger over government’s refusal to honour the plebiscite, ran far deeper than the Liberals realized.
It was also a harsh dose of reality for new PC leader James Alyward who hoped to ride the momentum of his October leadership win into a byelection victory.
Another election night shocker was the failure by Redmond to even match the vote totals by a largely unknown NDP candidate in 2015. Redmond failed to reach even 10 per cent of the vote and the NDP will have to do some serious soul-searching in the wake of the Greens success on Monday.
If the byelection result was an unofficial referendum on the failed plebiscite, where the Liberals and PCs unofficially favoured the status quo, voters showed they are ready for change. It’s no longer politics as usual.
It will be interesting to see how the government reacts to this latest, valuable lesson in democracy.