PEI (Canada) 2011

Provincial elections were held on Prince Edward Island (PEI) on October 4, 2011. All 27 members of the Canadian province’s Legislative Assembly were up for reelection. Since 1996, PEI uses single-member districts. Prior to that, it used two-member districts. PEI is the smallest province and the least populated of Canada’s ten provinces, with only 141,551 inhabitants. This makes PEI politics very parochial and grassroots when compared to other sub-national jurisdictions. An MLA represents roughly 5,000 people, meaning that most voters know their MLA personally. Politics on PEI is still marked by unusually high partisan identification with either of the two dominant parties, the Liberals or the Progressive Conservatives (PC), both of which are centrist parties in practice. But politics are not all that polarized: the island is relatively homogeneous, with no stark class divisions or history of labour unrest. The only main division on the island has traditionally been religious, between Catholics and Protestants who both make up roughly half of the island’s population.

In electoral terms, this relative social and political homogeniety has meant that elections in PEI tend to be very lopsided: governing parties win huge majorities with the opposition being kept to a tiny caucus. The last time the seat count was close was in 1978 (the election split 17-15 between the Liberals and PCs). Since 1959, Conservatives and Liberals have governed relatively equal lengths of time, and a government usually governs for up to three terms but never for a single term (the last single-term government was a Tory government between 1931 and 1935). The only exception to this pattern since 1959 is a four-term Liberal government between 1966 and 1978. After three terms, voter fatigue is high and the governing party loses, like the PCs did after three terms in 2007. They don’t lose in landslides, but because the island is so homogeneous, a change in government usually gives the then-opposition a huge majority. Most recently, in 2007, the PCs won 41% of the vote to the Liberal’s 53%, but the seats split 23-4 for the Liberals. Third parties are weak: the only third party to win a seat was the island’s terribly weak NDP in 1996. The PEI NDP is the weakest provincial NDP in the country, winning only 2% of the vote in 2007. It fails to run a full slate of candidates, and has no strong organization on the ground.

PEI is governed since 2007 by Robert Ghiz, a Liberal, and son of former Liberal Premier Joe Ghiz who served between 1986 and 1993. Ghiz has been a pretty decently popular Premier, and his reelection was never in jeopardy. However, a dull campaign turned violent in the last few days as opposition leader Olive Crane seized the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) scandal and used it against the Liberals. In the PNP program, immigrants invested their money into PEI businesses in return for immigrant status, but the program spun out of hand and a lot of the investment ended up in the pockets of MLAs and even Ghiz’s extended family. The PCs gained 5 points in polls in a month with the scandal, and probably spoiled Ghiz’s hope of having a clean-sweep of all 27 seats. The NDP failed to nominate a full slate (14/27, less than in 2007), and slumped in polls after peaking at 13% in June in the wake of the federal NDP’s orange crush in May.

The results are as follows. Changes from the last election, though the Liberals gained the PC seat of Belfast-Murray River in a 2007 by-election despite it being the seat of former PC Premier Pat Binns.

Liberal 51.39% (-1.54%) winning 22 seats (-1)
PC 40.18% (-1.17%) winning 5 seats (+1)
Greens 4.35% (+1.31%) winning 0 seats (nc)
NDP 3.16% (+1.2%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Island 0.91% (+0.91%) winning 0 seats

CBC has the results in its interactive map thing. Barely anything changed in this election. Despite another lopsided seat count, PEI remains very much a two-party province with the opposition accounting for over 40% of the vote despite taking only 5 seats. Ghiz’s reelection was never once in doubt as Premiers in PEI – or in the Maritimes and a lot of other provinces for that matter – usually need to try very, very hard to lose reelection after only one term in office. What is slightly surprising is his reduced majority, but the PNP scandal likely hurt the Liberals in the final days of the campaign. Ghiz will return for another term, which could be his last given the traditional cycle of government on the island. The opposition returns strengthened, which will save Olive Crane from leadership trouble within the PCs. The PCs can take this result as a victory, as they enlarged their caucus whereby in most second-term reelections for PEI governments, the opposition usually loses a seat or two.

The only major division on this homogeneous island has been religion. Traditionally, Catholics, concentrated in westernmost Prince County have voted Liberal while Protestants, who are important in easternmost Kings County voted Conservative. This is not always the rule, and sometimes you find Kings voting Liberal while Prince votes Conservative. This is actually what happened federally in 2008 and 2011: Egmont, which covers Prince County, was the only riding to elect a Conservative. But provincially, the rule holds a bit better these days. The PCs, like in 2007, did best in Kings. They did win one seat in Prince, Tignish-Palmer Road, which happens to be the former riding of federal Conservative MP Gail Shea. The Liberals did very well and had a huge swing in their favour in Evangeline-Miscouche, where their incumbent MLA Sonny Gallant won 77%. Evangeline-Miscouche is the core of PEI’s small Acadian French community and is traditionally Liberal. Overall, the PCs lost two seats they won in 2007 including Belfast-Murray River which they lost to the Liberals in a 2007 by-election and failed to win back. They gained three seats from the Liberals.

The Greens and NDP both increased their support by 1% apiece. Again, the Greens ended up ahead of the NDP likely because they ran 22 candidates to the NDP’s 14. The PEI Greens are rather left-wing and into stuff like organic food. Both parties did best in urban Charlottetown, the Green leader Sharon Labchuk received 12.9% in Charlottetown-Victoria Park while the NDP did best in Charlottetown-Lewis Point with 10%.

October 3 also saw elections in the Northwest Territories (NWT), also in Canada. NWT uses non-partisan consensus government, so it’s hard to report on elections there. A cabinet minister apparently lost his riding, while the NWT will get a new Premier as the incumbent retired this year. Nunavut also uses consensus government, but the Yukon – which votes next Tuesday – has partisan government.

Manitoba votes today, October 4. Ontario votes Thursday, October 6. Newfoundland and Yukon vote Tuesday, October 11. Saskatchewan votes in a bit over a month.

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Posted on October 5, 2011, in Canada, Prince Edward Island, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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