If a party other than the Liberals or Progressive Conservatives ever forms a government in this province, historians will be sure to look at the recent Charlottetown-Parkdale byelection as a watershed moment in making that happen.
There is no question the election of Hannah Bell as the second Green Party MLA represents a potential earthquake in Island politics. While Bell was certainly a strong candidate, there is little doubt the strong performance of party leader Peter Bevan-Baker played a major role in her victory.
Unlike Dr. Herb Dickieson, who was the first third party candidate to taste electoral success in Prince Edward Island, when he became the MLA for the now defunct riding of West Point-Bloomfield in 1996, Bevan-Baker has been able to use his personal popularity to help get somebody else elected. The retired dentist campaigned extensively with Bell and appeared in virtually all of her advertising.
The message to the other parties is clear and simple - be afraid. Be very afraid.
While Premier Wade MacLauchlan tried to brush off the results as a local issue rather than a referendum on his government, the fact remains the seat used to be held by one of his most senior cabinet ministers. Now, Bell is preparing to take her seat and become the sixth Green Party MLA in Canada. P.E.I., which long has a reputation as being small "c" conservative in its voting patterns, has two of them.
The bad news continued from the premier when the quarterly omnibus poll by Corporate Research Associates showed his party was the choice of 37 per cent of decided voters - a drop from 45 per cent in August. They still remain the party of choice, but are now at their lowest level in the poll since 2004. By contrast, the Green Party jumped nine points to stand at 25 per cent.
Progressive Conservative Leader James Aylward saw his party increase from 24 to 28 per cent. While that is good news, Aylward invested considerable political capital in the byelection, with the entire Conservative caucus campaigning with candidate Melissa Hilton on a number of occasions. He saw no return on that investment.
Mike Redmond made one last attempt to gain a seat in the legislature as NDP leader. He finished a distant fourth in a three-way race and has now resigned. He had little choice. It remains to be seen if there is a way forward for the party without him, but there was certainly little chance of moving ahead with him as leader. Right now, they are largely irrelevant to the political process and it will take a herculean effort to turn that around, especially since Gordon McNeilly (who would have been considered the heir apparent following his second place showing in Charlottetown-Lewis Point in the 2015 election), defected to the Liberals earlier this year.
It all shapes up to another interesting year politically in 2018 as the clock begins to tick down until the next provincial election in the spring of 2019. A year and a half is a long time in politics and a lot can happen, but that vote is shaping up to be a barn-burner.
- Andy Walker is an Island-based writer and commentator.