Liberals win majority in P.E.I. election
Government accountability a theme during four-week campaign
The Liberals were handed the keys to government for a third election in a row on Prince Edward Island on Monday, but were also delivered a strong message of caution from voters.
While the Liberals are back in power, perhaps the bigger story of the night is the performance of the NDP and Green parties. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker will be the province's first Green MLA.
Both the Greens and the NDP drew more than 10 per cent of the popular vote. Both parties earned less than five per cent of the vote in 2011.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan, speaking to CBC News shortly after the announcement that he had won a majority government, acknowledged that voters were unhappy with politics in general on P.E.I.
"We absolutely will be dealing with issues around engagement we've heard about in the course of this election," MacLauchlan said.
"[We will also engage] with other political parties around ways in which we can be sure that the voters can have confidence in the democratic process."
The Progressive Conservatives, who were the opposition in the last legislature, made accountability in government a major issue in the campaign. But the big beneficiary of that appears to have been the Greens and New Democrats. The Progressive Conservative popular vote fell by about three per cent, and Tory Leader Rob Lantz failed to win his seat.
Greens and NDP see success
It was a historic night for both the Greens and the NDP, with both seeing huge increases in the popular vote, but it was the Greens with the true breakthrough as they gained their first seat in the legislature.
This election featured different approaches by the two parties, with Bevan-Baker spending most of his time in his own district of Kellys Cross-Cumberland, and the party focusing its efforts on getting him elected, rather than garnering province-wide support.
Bevan-Baker was conciliatory, measured and calm during two televised debates, leading many to say the trumpet-playing country dentist deserved a seat in Province House.
NDP Leader Redmond made a calculated risk and switched districts for this election. In the two years after assuming leadership of his party, Redmond planned to run in Charlottetown-Victoria Park. In the interim, however, he moved his home out of Charlottetown. He ultimately chose to run in the district where he is living now, Montague-Kilmuir, where he was unable to unseat Liberal cabinet minister Allen Roach.
The NDP came close to winning a seat in Charlottetown-Lewis Point (District 14). Gord McNeilly was leading over incumbent Liberal Kathleen Casey for much of the night, but fell behind in the final polls.
Four rookie leaders
This was the first election campaign for each of the four party leaders.
MacLauchlan became Liberal leader on Feb. 21.
One week later, former Charlottetown city councillor Lantz won the PC Party of P.E.I. leadership over two other candidates.
Green Leader Bevan-Baker and NDP Leader Mike Redmond have both been in their positions longer, since 2012.
The early days of the campaign centred on government accountability, a theme that continued through the four-week race for Province House. The issues of a failed e-gaming strategy, the provincial nominee program and the provincial deficit nipped at MacLauchlan's heels as the newly proclaimed premier tried to distance himself from the government of his predecessor, Robert Ghiz.
MacLauchlan had moved quickly when he took office. He cut the size of cabinet and implemented new accountability guidelines, in a effort to draw attention away from what was expected to be a key issue when he finally called the election.
In the final days before the election call, the Liberal government announced improved conflict of interest rules, extended expense reporting to senior civil servants and established the position of ethics and integrity commissioner.
The former UPEI president also saw through on his belief that a party needs to renew itself for elections, as many key Liberal ministers did not run again.
New PC Leader Lantz also came out swinging. He announced he would cut up government-issued credit cards and take away the keys to ministerial vehicles, and said a PC government would hold a royal commission on the e-gaming issue and investigate the provincial nominee program.
Abortion back in headlines
The NDP were the only party other than the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives to ever hold a seat in the legislature, but the party has performed poorly since losing that seat in 2000.
Redmond has done a lot to turn the party around, performing well in mid-term polls two years ago, and recruiting candidates for every district for the first time since 2000.
Both Redmond and Bevan-Baker were successful in getting P.E.I.'s abortion policies back into the headlines. The parties promised to change the long-standing provincial policy preventing abortions from being performed in the province.
Lantz said if the PCs won government, the status quo would have remained.
MacLauchlan said another provincial Liberal government would also stay the course, however he did say later in the campaign he would be willing to study access and education issues around abortion.