Prince Edward Island is now in uncharted territory.
The Island elected a minority government after last night’s cliff hanger election, the first minority government in the province since Confederation.
Dennis King led his Progressive Conservatives to win the highest number of seats, taking 12 out of 27 seats as of 10 p.m. The impressive turnout, which occurred in the only three-way race seen in P.E.I. political history, represents a massive comeback for the party.
The Green party won eight seats, in the strongest showing of a third party in P.E.I. history and the strongest showing of any Green party in Canada.
The Liberals, meanwhile, watched their 18-seat majority evaporate to six seats. Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan lost his own his in District 8 Stanhope-Marshfield.
King is expected to be given the first chance to form a government, which could be a coalition with one of the other parties. It remains unclear whether King would attempt to form an agreement or formal coalition with either the Greens or the Liberals.
The results have some parallels with the 2017 election in B.C., where that province’s Green party negotiated a governing agreement with that province’s New Democrats. However, the Greens won only three seats in B.C. compared to the eight captured by the P.E.I. Greens.
The PCs managed to sweep Kings County, holding onto key seats in Queens County and even broke into Prince County, long considered a Liberal stronghold.
The party’s showing represents a remarkable comeback on the part of the PCs, who as recently as November 2018 were polling in third place behind the Liberals and the Greens.
Here is a video of PC supporters reacting to the news of the projected minority government:
The applause started early as the first polls were announced at a PC watch party at the Rodd Charlottetown Hotel.
PC supporters arrived bearing blue shirts. Early in the evening, cheers went up as new PC candidate Cory Deagle and incumbent MLA Brad Trivers were declared elected in District 3 Montague-Kilmuir and District 18 Rustico-Emerald.
The loudest applause, however, was reserved for results coming in from District 15 Brackley-Hunter River, the riding of PC Leader Dennis King. King was declared the winner at 8:30 p.m. and arrived at the Rodd Charlottetown to hugs and backslaps.
King emphasized the need for parties to work together in the next government.
"I think anyone who knocked on doors, who followed the election campaign, we knew this government was going to change. We were measuring the colour of what that change would be,” King said.
"Islanders want their elected officials to work together. That's what we have been promoting. Not so much this bitingly partisan nature of politics."
The PC victory brings to a close three-terms of Liberal governments, most recently under the leadership of Wade MacLauchlan. The Liberals lost 13 seats from their total at the dissolution of the legislature.
Three of the remaining Liberal seats were in Prince County. In addition, former finance minister Heath Macdonald retained his seat in District 16 Cornwall-Meadowbank and former health minister Robert Mitchell winning the lone Liberal seat in Charlottetown in District 10 Charlottetown-Winsloe. Late on Tuesday night, Gord McNeilly beat out Green Party candidate Gavin Hall in Charlottetown-West Royalty.
MacLauchlan expressed pride in his governing record during his term as premier.
“We’ve had four years of prosperity,” MacLauchlan.
“We presented a good policy, we presented a good team and we went and did the work that candidates do in an election.”
MacLauchlan offered congratulations to King, Green party leader Peter Bevan-Baker and his PC opponent Bloyce Thompson.
"I'll get up tomorrow morning proud to have been a Prince Edward Islander and proud to have been a candidate, and I would say, a candidate that we did everything I could to present myself to my constituents," MacLauchlan said.
MacLauchlan’s Liberals had presided over a period of economic and population growth in P.E.I. However, throughout the campaign, voters expressed frustration about the state of the Island’s health care, as well as the lack of affordable and rental housing.
The Greens did not manage to win the highest number of seats, as predicted by some pollsters, but pulled off a historically strong showing nonetheless. Green candidates swept out several Liberal cabinet ministers in the urban centers of Charlottetown and Summerside and captured a Prince County seat in District 23 Tyne Valley-Sherbrook. The Greens also won in District 5 Mermaid-Stratford.
The Green wins were no doubt bittersweet for Bevan-Baker and his team of Green candidates. Just days before April 23, Josh Underhay, a well-known musician, father, teacher and Green party candidate, died in a canoeing accident on the Hillsborough River. Underhay’s six-year-old son, Oliver, died as well.
The tragedy brought campaigning by all parties to a standstill on Saturday. The Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and the NDP all cancelled weekend events and ceased all door-knocking over the weekend. Messages of condolence from candidates of all parties filled social media.
In a speech at a Green Party election watch party, Bevan-Baker appeared on the verge of tears as he addressed supporters.
“For me, personally, I don’t think I have ever felt so overwhelmed with both joy and grief,” Bevan-Baker said.
“Josh has been a companion on my political journey for many years.”
Bevan-Baker expressed hope for the future of P.E.I.’s government and said he looked forward to meeting with the leaders of the other parties.
“My god, I love this Island,” Bevan-Baker said.
Joe Byrne’s New Democratic Party did not manage to win a seat, although former physician Herb Dickieson had a strong showing in O’Leary-Inverness.
“We’re clearly in a rebuilding phase. We have a great group of candidates (delivering our) message. We just have to keep building up, expanding our reach and going with our message, which I think is a good one,” Byrne said.
Byrne said there will be an automatic leadership review before November.
“That’s a conversation that we will be having with the executive council and the members.’’
King’s takeover of the leadership of the PC party was precipitated by the surprise resignation last September by then-PC leader James Aylward. At the time, Aylward said it was because he had failed to connect with voters.
The party had seen a succession of leaders – five over the last six years – and many had written off their chances in this election. But King’s win in a party leadership contest in February, in which thousands of members voted, brought a sense of momentum back to the party.
King had been director of communications with the government of former PC premier Pat Binns in the late 1990s. Prior to his run for the leadership of the PCs, he was a well-known member of the Four Tellers, a popular storytelling quartet. Most recently, he worked as the executive director of the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association.