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Re-elected P.E.I. premier King promises to seek input from shrunken opposition


The Prince Edward Island Progressive Conservatives swept to a majority in the provincial election Monday, but one expert notes they enter a second term carrying baggage.

Don Desserud, a Prince Edward Island political analyst, said the party can no longer blame the previous government for problems. "Now they have to take responsibility," he said in an interview. "The charm of the leader starts to wear a bit thin."

The provincial Tories captured 55.9 per cent of the popular vote and won 22 of the province's 27 seats, leaving the Liberals with just three seats and the Greens with two.

For the Greens, it was a sobering shift in fortunes from the election four years earlier when the party formed the official Opposition -- a first for the Greens in any province.

Desserud said the result reflects the democratic will of Islanders, adding that the five opposition members should not be underestimated. But he questioned how accountable the government will be with a shrunken opposition.

"It's not nearly as responsible when you have a small opposition," he said. "Governments become quite confident, and sometimes arrogant when they have a strong majority. And that's always problematic."

King called the opposition members "very capable individuals," saying he has worked with them in the past and looks forward to working with them in the future.

"I've been the same since I started. I'm not going to change now," he said in an interview following his victory speech Monday night. "I'll seek their input. I'll try to work with them the best I can, and I think we'll deliver a good government for P.E.I."

He said it was premature to talk about an expanded cabinet. "I'll have a look at all the people, where they're represented, what's the geographical breakdown of that. And we'll take a look at how, like we did last time, how we'll go about building the cabinet," he said.

Leader of the Green Party Peter Bevan-Baker speaks to his supporters on Prince Edward Island election night in Charlottetown on Monday night April 3, 2023. Voters in Prince Edward Island delivered a decisive majority to the incumbent Progressive Conservatives on Monday after an election campaign dominated by debate over heath care. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Brian McInnis)

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker held onto his riding west of Charlottetown, defeating Liberal Leader Sharon Cameron, who had made the unorthodox move of challenging a fellow leader. But he lamented the loss of colleagues who went down to defeat. "The work that they did in the house was just outstanding and their commitment to their community was unparalleled," he said.

Bevan-Baker acknowledged the party was not as prepared as it needed to be going into the campaign, and while he said COVID-19 played a role in this, he also said he does not want to use the pandemic as an "excuse."

"We need to get that work done and it's not going to be easy. But one thing that gives me optimism is, when I look at the slate of candidates we have. There are a lot of young people, a lot of bright people, a lot of new people to the party ... and we have to build the party up around these people."

He said he plans to take time to reflect on whether he will stay on as leader after more than a decade in this role. The loss will trigger an automatic leadership review at the party's next annual general meeting, but Bevan-Baker said he will decide his future before then.

Despite the loss of seats, the Green leader said he believes the party has "changed the face of politics on Prince Edward Island," in that it is clear the province is no longer a two-party-only system.

Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May said "it's quite clear" that the provincial Greens "remain very popular on Prince Edward Island," given their 21 per cent share of the popular vote.

"No one should read into this as some sort of collapse of support," she said in an interview Tuesday, adding election results like this are a reason why Canada should get rid of the first-past-the-post electoral system so the seat count better reflects the popular vote.

Sharon Cameron, leader of the Liberal Party of P.E.I., casts her vote in the provincial election at a polling station in Cornwall, P.E.I. on Monday, April 3, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)

Cameron said she has no doubt that the elected opposition members will be able to do a "great job."

"These are seasoned, very, very capable politicians who know what opposition is," she said in an interview Tuesday. "It would have been nice to have a few extra colleagues in there. But having said that, they'll be a great opposition."

When asked whether she will stay on as Liberal leader, Cameron said the party will reflect on that question once they've had a chance to rest and take stock of the situation.

Desserud said it's good news for the government if the opposition parties are dealing with leadership questions.

"I always find these things to be frustrating because as long as the opposition parties are focused on trying to figure out who their new leader is, they're not doing their job as an opposition party, and the government gets a free pass," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2023.

With files from Teresa Wright in Charlottetown and David Fraser in Ottawa. Top Stories

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