As It Happens

Meet the P.E.I. MLA who could become Canada's first Green Party premier

With the Green Party surging in the polls on Prince Edward Island, Peter Bevan-Baker may become the first Green Party premier in Canadian history.

Peter Bevan-Baker hopes to topple 'ping pong politics' between the Liberals and Tories

Prince Edward Island Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker listens during the release of the provincial budget in Charlottetown, P.E.I., on April 6, 2018. (Nathan Rochford/Canadian Press)
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With only two seats, the Prince Edward Island Legislature has been a lonely place for the Green Party.

But that may be about to change. With the election campaign in full swing, the party has led in four of the last five polls.

If the lead continues through the election on April 23, it will form the first Green government anywhere in Canada. That would make Peter Bevan-Baker the country's first Green premier.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Bevan-Baker about that prospect and why he thinks his platform is resonating with voters. Here is part of their conversation.

Mr. Bevan-Baker, as you know Prince Edward Island has gone back and forth between Liberals and Tories for generations. So what makes you think that Islanders are ready to have a Green government?

Like so many places in the world, there is a deep dismay and disappointment with conventional politics and unimaginative politicians. And people are looking for an alternative, a credible alternative, that feels comfortable for them.

Here on Prince Edward Island, the sort of natural traditions and personality of folks is not, as has happened in some other jurisdictions, to take a hard turn to the right. We've always been the "keeper of each other's brother" here. It's a very communitarian society. And so that sort of direction for something new was never going to happen here.

What do your Green Party colleagues across the country say to you about, "Why P.E.I.?" I'm sure there's a lot of jealousy that's going around.

I've had more support than jealousy. But they're certainly looking at this with great interest, because it's new. And there's obviously a lot of responsibility that comes with that.

PEI Premier Wade MacLauchlan drops the writ, with assistance from a prop, announcing Prince Edward Islanders will be going to the polls on April 23, in Charlottetown on March 26, 2019. (Brian McInnis/The Canadian Press)

What's your key offer to the people of P.E.I.? What makes you different from the Tories and Liberals?

If I were to focus in on one area of our platform, the one that I think is resonating most loudly with Islanders is to restore trust in government.

We've heard that sort of ping pong politics here between the red team and the blue team. And it seemed that no matter who was in there, the level of patronage really did not change. 

But this time they have an opportunity for a different level of change — a deeper level of change.

Why have you downplayed to some extent your environmental concerns? I would think that would be front and centre with the Green Party.

Well, absolutely they are. And I think the Green Party, unlike the other parties, recognizes that a healthy environment is fundamental to a prosperous economy and to a healthy society. You cannot have a vibrant economy on a dying planet.

So it's not that we're downplaying that. But in order to present a comfortable alternative to people in politics today, we have to get past that idea that the Green Party is a single-issue party.

Well we just had a report come out, rather devastating news about what's going on with climate change in this country. You think this is a time to say, "We just assume they know we care about the environment, and we'll move on?" I mean I think you'd have to actually say, "Hey guys, we need to do something right now."

We are, and I am.

Of course carbon tax is a huge issue politically in Canada, and it's no different here in Prince Edward Island.

And I'm not trying to belittle the fact that for some people that is a significant amount of money added up, particularly if you live in rural Prince Edward Island, if you have a minimum paying job. But we have to also recognize our collective responsibility to pass on a livable planet to future generations.

P.E.I. Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King speaks to the crowd at the party's leadership convention. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

Our generation has done a terrible job of living on this planet. And I'm not just talking environmentally, I'm talking economically and socially as well. And we have to step up to the plate and take the action that's required.

It's early, but have you practiced that phrase — Premier Bevan-Baker? Have you said that out loud to yourself?

You know I have to be comfortable with that, Carol. Because if you can't imagine something then it's going to be a real shock to you if it ever if it ever materializes.

So I used to laugh when people said stuff like that, but it's not funny anymore. And we have to be ready to govern. And personally I am ready to do that, and the party I think has demonstrated on our platform and in the quality of our candidates that we are absolutely ready to govern here. 

Written by John McGill and Sarah-Joyce Battersby. Produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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