Canada’s smallest province has reminded the country that politics, sometimes seen as a blood sport, can be made better with collegiality and class.
Prince Edward Island voters took to the polls Tuesday. The Island’s Progressive Conservatives are set to form a minority government, with Greens serving as the Official Opposition in a historic first. Liberals, meanwhile, fell from a majority government to third-place status.
The 28-day campaign was devoid of personal attacks, despite policy differences. So much so that a leaders’ debate was dubbed a “polite” affair by CBC News.
And in a move that Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said reflected the spirit of the Island, party leaders paused their campaigns in the final push after the tragic death of Green candidate Josh Underhay and his son, Oliver.
“I am reminded how blessed we are to have politicians and a political culture that can be counted on to put people and community ahead of partisan differences,” Bevan-Baker said in a statement this week.
Here are a few more moments of grace from P.E.I.’s election worth highlighting.
The incoming premier and Opposition leader hugged it out
On Wednesday morning, P.E.I. premier-designate Dennis King and Bevan-Baker both appeared on CBC Radio’s “Island Morning with Mitch Cormier.”
According to Cormier, the two leaders had not spoken since the results were released the night before.
And this is what happened.
Bevan-Baker, a former dentist, told the show that the Tory leader’s family used to be patients of his.
“The goodwill is there. I think Islanders want us to work together,” he said.
King added that P.E.I. is too small to focus on the things that divide people.
“The one thing I would never doubt is Peter’s genuine interest in seeing me do well personally and the province do well,” King said.
Both leaders committed to making a minority government work
P.E.I. is a province that typically alternates between majority PC and Liberal governments. The Island has not seen a minority or coalition government in more than a century.
With 12 seats, PCs fell short Tuesday of the 14 needed for a majority government. The Greens won eight seats, while Liberals captured six. A byelection will be held within three months to elect a candidate in the district in which Underhay was running.
King told CBC that his party will work on an “issue-by-issue” basis to pass legislation and budgetary measures, which are matters of confidence that can trigger another election. He does not plan to pursue a formal coalition to ensure his government survives.
“Governing is hard. It’s supposed to be hard and that’s a good thing,” King said. “I think overall if your approach is to serve people first and not worry about the colour of parties, we can get a lot of things done.”
Bevan-Baker also made it clear he’s in no hurry to force another election on Islanders.
“There’s no reason why the legislature cannot function well and provide good governance,” he said.
Bevan-Baker paid beautiful tribute to Josh Underhay and the Island
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt as overwhelmed with both joy and grief simultaneously,” Bevan-Baker told his supporters Tuesday night. “My heart is so full but it’s also breaking.”
The Green leader remembered his friend Underhay as a beloved teacher, dedicated father, a compassionate advocate, and a talented musician.
“Josh’s trumpet solo was far too short,” he said. “The music was muted by a dreadful suddenness.”
Calling sorrow a “single note,” he asked others to try to find joy, gratitude and hope.
Bevan-Baker said the response to the tragedy from all parties reminded him how “blessed” they all are to live in a province where community comes before partisan interests.
“P.E.I. is a very special place and it never showed its beauty and its strength more clearly than it has done in the last few days,” he said. “My God, I love this Island.”
And lastly, the Liberal and NDP leaders showed grace in defeat
It was a tough night for premier Wade MacLauchlan. Despite a booming economy, his Liberals were not re-elected to a fourth mandate.
“The tide turned,” MacLauchlan told reporters later. “We’ve had four years of good government, responsible government and exceptionally good management of the province’s finances.”
MacLauchlan also lost his seat to PC candidate Bloyce Thompson, a dairy farmer.
“He’s a fine person and a good representative of our community,” the premier said of Thompson. “And I look forward to him being our MLA in the future.”
MacLauchlan personally congratulated King on his party’s big win.
It was also a difficult result for New Democrats on the Island, who were again shut out of the legislature.
“It’s politics. We ran a good campaign, we got our message out,” NDP Leader Joe Byrne told reporters later.
Byrne finished a distant third in his race. The district was won by Green candidate Karla Bernard.
He asked his supporters to “give her a round of applause.”
Who says politics has to be ugly?
With files from The Canadian Press
Watch: P.E.I. PC leader celebrates winning the most seats