In an election where the desire for change dominated voter motivation, Liberals avoided an electoral slaughter after 12 years in office. And despite the ego bruising reality of now being a third party for the first time, it is possible, with focus and luck, Liberals avoid a long, bruising wander in the political wilderness.
The newness of PEI’s political reality is such that what was once predictable, no longer is. For 100 plus years Liberals and Tories have shared power with one party serving two or three terms, followed by the other.
But precedent was turned on its ear April 23 with the election of our first minority government, including a traditional third party taking the elevator ride up to Official Opposition status.
Premier King has rightfully won praise for his tone, but substantive actions are more difficult to find. The Speech from the Throne and budget will offer a more meaningful insight into how much meat all parties are prepared to put on their cooperation rhetoric. How far will Tories bend to appease the Green opposition? Will there be a promise of a guaranteed annual income, a key component of the Green platform? What about independent offices for both child advocate and provincial ombudsman? How substantive will legislative reform be? Will Tories compromise on the promise to increase the personal tax exemption to $12,000, a promise that by itself would eat up the majority of the anticipated provincial surplus.
Liberals will be slightly easier to please this time around. The bulk of the budget was completed prior to the election, meaning it’s largely a piece of Liberal work.
The three party leaders have committed to meeting weekly. It is a sign of both goodwill and the recognition that they are all in this together because no party wants an election anytime soon. Liberals are carrying post election debt in excess of $300,000, with the Tories believed to be close behind. A clampdown on corporate donations will make it more difficult for political parties to raise money.
Many believe the upcoming session of the provincial legislature will be strong on optics and symbolism and short on controversy. The primary objective of all is to simply get their feet wet.
Of the eight Green MLAs, six are rookies. On the government side, three cabinet ministers, including the premier, will step into the house for the first time. The rest are veterans of years in opposition, when the Tory caucus developed a reputation for being against everything. The reversal of roles is a challenge for newly minted ministers whose contrarian reputations are engrained with the public.
Liberals must learn to hold government accountable without appearing to be sore losers or arrogant.
There is certainly an opportunity for both the Tories and Greens to succeed. But there is also a real potential that one or both could stumble.
Greens suffered a minor self-inflicted bruise last week when one of two candidates approved to run for the party nomination in the District 9 by-election was deemed ineligible by Elections PEI. She had run in another district in April and as such was in violation of a little known (because we rarely have by-elections directly linked to a provincial election) rule that says you cannot run in two ridings.
It is the type of mistake that taken in isolation has no consequence. But if fumbles become routine, the impact compounds. It’s why all parties want to establish a level of comfort in the provincial legislature first.
If either of the two main parties stumble, the experience on the Liberal bench could be enough to put the party in contention whenever the next election is held, assuming it does the work at the grassroots needed to rebuild.
But if Tories and Greens perform well, then Islanders may punish the Liberals even more. History shows the biggest thumping often comes the election after a party is tossed from government. It’s also possible that PEI will join Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in defeating a one term government - up until now unheard of in this province.
We simply don’t know. Old, predictable loyalties no longer exist.
This is the beauty of where we find ourselves. Anyone who claims to know who the winners and losers will be in this minority are dreaming in technicolour.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org