CHARLOTTETOWN - The Green party has pulled off an unprecedented electoral victory in P.E.I., doubling its standings in the legislature and potentially signalling a surprising shift in the political landscape of Canada's smallest province.
The upstart party increased the number of its MLAs on the Island to two from one in a byelection Monday following the resignation of a Liberal cabinet minister last month.
Hannah Bell, the 48-year-old head of a businesswomen's association in Charlottetown, easily defeated the Liberal, NDP and Conservative candidates, suggesting a breakthrough for the party that elected its first MLA just two years ago.
"Against the odds, we totally knocked it out of the park," Bell said in an interview the morning after a late night of celebrating her win. "It's absolutely astounding and shows the real appetite for change."
Bell captured 35.3 per cent of the vote in the Charlottetown-Parkdale byelection, according to unofficial results from Elections PEI. Liberal Bob Doiron took second place with 28.5 per cent, Melissa Hilton of the PCs came in third with 26.9 per cent of the vote and New Democrat Mike Redmond captured 9.3 per cent.
Because of the nature of P.E.I.'s small ridings, Bell won with just 768 votes.
Bell — the executive director of the PEI Business Women's Association — joins leader Peter Bevan-Baker as the second Green party member in the 27-seat P.E.I. legislature following his election in May 2015.
The byelection was called to fill a seat left vacant when former education minister Doug Currie announced he was leaving politics to explore other professional opportunities. Premier Wade MacLauchlan quickly dropped the writ, prompting the opposition to question whether he was trying to catch them flat-footed.
Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, said the Green win was likely linked to several factors, including a dissatisfaction with the governing Liberals over the prospect of school closures, the growing appeal of Bevan-Baker and a respect for Bell and her business background.
"They like the Green party leader, they like the policies he stands for and they like the way he's carrying himself in the house," he said.
"For the third parties, they usually win a seat and that's it. So winning two seats is remarkable."
The victory makes it the second Green caucus in the country after B.C., where the Liberals were later defeated in a confidence vote, allowing the New Democrats to form a minority government with support from the Green party.
Andrew Weaver, the B.C. Green leader, called Bell's win a "tidal shift."
Federal Green Leader Elizabeth May said the win represented a growing acceptance of the party as a viable alternative to traditional political parties.
"The growing success of Green parties in Canada and around the world signals an exciting trend — voters are increasingly looking to Greens when it comes to strengthening democracy, fighting for those less fortunate, and leading the way to a sustainable future," May, who campaigned in P.E.I., said in an email statement.
However, Desserud said a byelection win may not mean people are ready to abandon their traditional voting habits in a general election in a province where there has only ever been three seats that were not red or blue. He added that the voter turnout was about 60 per cent, which "doesn't indicate to me there's a great movement of anger" against the current government.
"If you look at (the last general) election results across the province, the Greens did very well in this riding and well in the Charlottetown ridings, but in deep rural P.E.I. ridings they did not do so well," he said.
"Their problem is to translate that into general support in a provincial election."
Still, Bell sees her win is part of a widening trend across the country.
"This is a continuation of that story of slow, steady change," she said, noting a poster in her office that says, 'Gentle pressure, relentlessly applied.'
"We now have two caucuses in the country and it feels very small, but it feels very big."
David Coon, the New Brunswick Green leader and the party's sole member in that province's legislature, pounced on the win Tuesday as a sign "the winds of change are blowing across the Maritimes."
Bell, who lives with her 10-year-old daughter and mother in the riding, said she would likely continue to serve as finance critic when she takes her seat in the house, which may not happen until the spring if the legislature breaks soon.
— By Alison Auld in Halifax