Voters in P.E.I. have shed their century-old embrace of the Island’s two-party system by electing a minority government, but the final outcome remained unclear amid a tight electoral race that saw the Tories holding a slim lead over the Greens.
Less than two hours after the polls closed Tuesday, the Tories were leading and elected in 12 ridings, the Greens had pulled into second place with nine and the incumbent Liberals were in third with five.
The Greens had led in opinion polls since August, which led to speculation they could be poised to upend the two-party tradition and form Canada’s first Green government.
Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King, a former political staffer and consultant, was elected to lead the party only two months ago. He won the riding of Brackley-Hunter River.
The Tories enjoyed a boost in the polls last month, leaving them in a virtual dead heat with the Greens and Liberals as the campaign ended.
Led by Scottish-born dentist Peter Bevan-Baker, the Greens’ rise in popularity generated a national buzz during an otherwise lacklustre campaign.
During the race, Bevan-Baker tried to persuade Islanders that the Greens care about more than just the environment, offering a platform that focused on a range of social issues.
The Green leader, who was elected to the legislature as the first Green member in 2015, won his riding of New Haven-Rocky Point.
The Liberals, under Premier Wade MacLauchlan, were seeking a fourth term in office, having repeatedly reminded Islanders that the province’s economy remains the strongest in the country.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say P.E.I. is on a tear, posting impressive numbers for higher wages, employment, immigration, housing starts, exports, retail sales and tourism.
However, voters appeared reluctant to give MacLauchlan credit for boosting the economy, a sentiment that was reflected in his relatively low personal popularity ratings.
The Island’s New Democrats, led by 57-year-old Joe Byrne, were not in contention in any ridings.
When the legislature was dissolved, the Liberals held 16 seats in the 27-seat legislature, the Tories had eight and the Green party had two seats. There was one Independent.
A total of 14 seats are needed for a majority, but only 26 of the 27 seats will be contested.
On Saturday, Elections P.E.I. postponed the vote in the district of Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park following the deaths of Green party candidate, Josh Underhay, and his young son in a boating mishap on the Hillsborough River.
A byelection will be held in the riding within the next three months.
Aside from the election outcome, voters will also learn the results of a binding referendum on electoral reform, which will determine if Islanders want to keep the first-past-the-post system or change to a mixed member proportional representation model.
Kevin Bissett and Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press