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JIM VIBERT: P.E.I. sets a good example, not a trend

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

High voter turnout sets Island elections apart, and those voters produce results that are distinct to their Island.

There’s no shortage of storylines coming out of this week’s Prince Edward Island election, but a familiar one deserves first mention. Once again, more than 80 per cent of Islanders voted.

Dennis King, who’s been leading his party for all of 75 days is the premier-elect; the Greens established a real beachhead on the best beaches in the country; Islanders elected their first minority government; and eight in 10 of those eligible took part in it all.

By comparison, just 55 per cent of eligible Nova Scotian voters bothered to in the last provincial election. Alberta’s recent election recorded the highest turnout in that province in four decades, at 69 per cent. The 68.5 per cent turnout in the last federal election was the highest since 1993, and Islanders voters more heavily than the rest of the country in that election, too.

Some folks might try to write off Islanders’ unintended propensity to shame the relative civic indifference of their fellow Canadians by suggesting it is all a matter of scale. In P.E.I., the ridings are small; 2,000 votes would have won any seat in this election, so every vote matters; everyone knows everyone; they’re tight-knit communities.

If those are the characteristics that produce high voter turnout, what does that say about most towns and counties in Nova Scotia, where municipal elections draw miserable turnouts?

High voter turnout sets Island elections apart, and those voters produce results that are distinct to their Island. It is folly to try to find broader implications or detect trends that will spread to the mainland from a P.E.I. election.

This election drew a modicum of national attention because polls for the past year or more put the Green Party in front. The prospect of a Green government in Canada was a newsie tidbit too tasty to pass.

P.E.I. voters, like voters almost everywhere, are showing signs of dissatisfaction in their political institutions, and the old-line parties

The Green Party got its anticipated breakthrough on the Island and will form the official opposition, but it was the result of factors peculiar to the Island and Island politics. Those who seek evidence of a Green surge starting in the very cradle of Confederation and preparing to roll across the land need more to go on than the 24,591 Green votes on P.E.I.

Sure, the Green Party is making inroads and drawing more serious consideration in many parts of Canada. It should. The party’s longstanding liability — the unfair single-issue tag — may be more of an asset when the planet faces what many believe is an existential threat from climate change. The Greens must have better environmental ideas, right? Their brand is built on it.

P.E.I. voters, like voters almost everywhere, are showing signs of dissatisfaction in their political institutions, and the old-line parties who are the architects and custodians of those institutions.

That dissatisfaction obviously sends voters looking for options beyond the traditional, old-line parties, and on P.E.I., the non-traditional alternative emerged as the Greens.

P.E.I. reliably alternated between Tory and Grit governments since the province entered Confederation, but for the last dozen years, while the Liberals governed, the Tories have been in near-perpetual disarray. King is the party’s eighth leader over that period.

Sensing the Grits’ time to go had come, and seeing confusion in the Tory ranks, Islanders looked around and found their alternative in the Greens. The party’s leader, Peter Bevin-Baker is popular, trusted and offers a sound fiscally-prudent, socially-progressive platform.

But the Progressive Conservatives won this election, albeit with a minority and even that was a significant political achievement.

Dennis King became party leader on Feb. 9. He parlayed the little bump in support a party gets with a new leader into a steady rise in the polls that continued right through the campaign.

Like just about everywhere else these days, Island politics are a tad more unsettled than they’ve ever been before. The Greens rose to become the third viable political party on the Island through perseverance, Peter Bevin-Baker, and the NDP’s inability to make meaningful inroads.

Rather than look to P.E.I. for lessons to apply elsewhere, or for signs of things to come, more Canadians would do well to follow Islanders’ example. And vote.

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