Green Party supporters should temper expectations, says political science prof

A local political science professor is cautioning against reading too much into the election of the Green Party's Hannah Bell this week.

Don Desserud says politics on P.E.I. tends to 'restore itself back to its old ways fairly quickly'

Hannah Bell's byelection victory on Nov. 27 gives the Green Party a second MLA in the P.E.I. Legislature. (CBC)

A local political science professor is cautioning against reading too much into the election of the Green Party's Hannah Bell this week.

"The system seems to favour the mainline parties and I sometimes liken it to a boulder thrown into a stream, there's a great splash and disruption but down the stream it's restored to the way it's always been," said Don Desserud, a political scientist professor at UPEI.

While many are viewing the surprise byelection win in Charlottetown-Parkdale as a landmark change for the Island's politics, it may be due more to how strong a candidate Bell herself was and the electorate's dissatisfaction with the sitting government, Desserud said.

"My first reaction [after her win] is that she is one of those unique political candidates that comes by every once in a while that has cross-party appeal…. Those are very rare people in our system but people thought this was a chance to pick somebody a little different than what we've had."

Profile in the community

Desserud cited Bell's profile in the community, the respect people have for her and Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker's popularity as factors in why voters turned to her.

Peter Bevan-Baker, leader of the P.E.I. Green Party, is a popular figure on the Island and that helped turn voters to the Greens, says political scientist Don Desserud. (Province of P.E.I.)

Bell will join Bevan-Baker to form the province's first multi-member third party in the legislature. They are two of just six sitting Green Party MLAs across the country, with one other in New Brunswick and three in British Columbia.

"I think a lot of people watched her and said 'gee, she would be a great seatmate for Peter Bevan-Baker, the two of them together will serve the Island well,'" Desserud said.

Holding government to account

The fact that this was a byelection midway through general elections also helped propel Bell to the win, Desserud said.

"Keeping in mind that this is not an election year, that's often the way in which people are voting in byelections — they're looking for ways to add to the accountability factor of government and will often look to opposition parties."

He noted it's very difficult for smaller parties to succeed in a first-past-the-post system, something the Greens want to change. It's hard for a small party to make changes to the way things are and after the initial enthusiasm, he said voter fatigue with the system often sets in.

"I've been around long enough to have seen smaller parties do well and then people get very excited and then to see the system restore itself back to its old ways fairly quickly, so you want to be careful with raising expectations so that people don't get too disappointed if they don't work out exactly the way they want."

With files from Laura Chapin