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PEI Tories win minority government; Green Party is the first official opposition

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker jumps after forming the first official opposition for Greens in Charlottetown on April 23, 2019.

Darren Calabrese / The Globe and Mail

The green wave that many believed could bring the party to power on Prince Edward Island became blue on Tuesdays.

Voters chose the Progressive Conservatives to a minority government, the province's first since the 19th century. The greens placed others, their best show ever in Canadian provincial politics. The tories were chosen in 12 rides, while the greens took nine. Fourteen places are needed for majority.

The existing liberals fell to five places. Premier Wade MacLauchlan, who made history when he was elected as the province's first open gay prize in 2015, lost his Stanhope-Marshfield district. "It's something that happens in politics," he told reporters on Tuesday night. "The tide has changed."

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The result marked the historic progress of the greens, which will form the party's first official opposition in Canada and won the most seats ever by a green party in any province. But the results also escaped the latest opinion polls, indicating that the party was on a swell of support that could do so to form Green's first provincial government in Canada.

The PC victory holds intact a long-standing Eastern tradition where the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives have traded in the government after three consecutive terms each (with one exception in 1978). It also represents the latest in a series of wins for right-wingers, including victories in Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick and Ontario – all in the past year.

Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King, accompanied by his wife Jana Hemphill, left, arrives to greet supporters after winning the provincial election in Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown on April 23, 2019.

Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian press

PEI Tory leader Dennis King, a former communications adviser to Prime Minister Pat Binns, was elected to the helm party just two months ago. His platform focused on reassuring the voters their concerns that they had lost their voice in the government heard.

Mr. King worked hard to insure farmers and rural voters who were cautious of the Green Party in public debates. He promised access to mental health and other healthcare services, hiring more teachers and classroom assistants, a new housing plan, and considering adding public transport to the island.

The prime minister acknowledged that he was overwhelmed when he took the stage in front of supporters in the Charlottetown center.

"I guess all I can say is welcome to a new day in PEI. Welcome to a new era of island politics," King said. "Let's drink this."

"Once again the people of PEI have spoken. Now it is our mission to make sure their wisdom and truth were not misplaced."

Support for the Liberals, and especially Mr MacLauchlan, declined for more than two years. Public opinion polls conducted by the Halifax-based Narrative Research report showed that respondents preferred Mr Bevan-Baker to Premier back in March 2017.

Since then, Bevan-Baker, a descendant of George Brown, the original publisher of The Globe, has been the island's most popular leader.

Mr. Bevan-Baker was choked when he took the stage Tuesday night in front of hundreds of encouraging supporters.

"I don't think I ever felt so overwhelmed with both joy and grief at the same time," said Bevan-Baker, referring to the party's historical results but also the tragic loss of one of the candidates over the weekend. "My heart is so full. But it also breaks."

He continued to say that he is "a strong believer as a minority government to create a collaborative environment" in which elements come before competing party interests.

Mr Bevan-Baker's promise to make policies different on the island was a pillar of the green campaign, which was built to emphasize what Mr. Bevan-Baker called "people who sound real". His presence in debates and door steps often presented more hugs than handshakes and he even stopped to fix a woman's tooth that approached him for help while he was on the campaign track.

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The outcome of a district will remain unclear for several weeks until a by-election can be held. Holiday cannabis death by the Green Party candidate Josh Underhay and his young son founded the campaign at a halt for all four parties over the weekend.

Citing legislation, PEI chose the announcement of Tuesday's vote in Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park, the district where the underhay ran. A city election will be held in the district sometime in the next three months.

The result of a referendum issue on the vote is unclear. The question asked voters to vote if the province should move from the first to-after voting system to the proportioned (MMP) mixed member.

According to MMP, voters would receive two votes on the election day. A vote would be cast for a place in the constituency's constituency and a second vote would be cast for a political party. The purpose is, according to the PEI information site referendum, to "allocate seats in a legislature in the same proportion as the parties receive votes in one election".

No other province in Canada has moved to an MMP system, although New Zealand adopted it as the country's electoral system in 1994.

With reports from The Canadian Press

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