Prince Edward Island’s First Successful Minority Government


MacLauchlan’s Early Dissolution Gambit Fails

Premier Wade MacLauchlan on 26 March 2019 advised Lieutenant-Governor Antoinette Perry to dissolve the 65th General Assembly of Prince Edward Island and issue writs of election for polling day on 23 April 2019.[1] Prince Edward Island’s fixed-date election legislation had originally scheduled the next provincial election for October 2019, but since that would have coincided with the scheduled federal election, the law would have postponed the provincial election to April 2020 and thus pushed the 65th Assembly perilously close to its absolute maximum lifespan of five years (4 May 2015 to 4 May 2020), as prescribed in section 4(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982. With a writ of 28 days, MacLauchlan would have had to advise the Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the 65th General Assembly on Monday, 23 March 2020 so that the general election could have been held on Monday, 20 April 2020. This 65th General Assembly would certainly have become the longest-lived elected assembly under a fixed-date election law if MacLauchlan had allowed it to run out the clock for another year.

MacLauchlan dismissed criticism of his second early election, saying: “It’s been four years. We had a mandate and fulfilled it. This is an opportunity to ask Islanders for their confidence to build on that record.”[2] But MacLauchlan’s gambit failed. On 23 April 2019, Prince Edward Islanders elected the first minority legislature in their province’s long history of Responsible Government since 1851: in an assembly consisting of 27 MLAs, the Progressive Conservatives won 12 seats; the Greens, 8; the Liberals, 6 on polling day,[3] and the Progressive Conservatives won an additional seat in a by-election on 15 July for a total of 13.[4] The Greens became the Official Opposition for the first time anywhere in Canada[5]; the Liberals came in third, and Wade MacLauchlan even lost his own seat.[6] MacLauchlan confirmed the following morning, on 24 April, that he would resign as premier.[7]

Not since the 19th century have voters elected a minority legislature, and never before 2019 had a single-party minority government in Prince Edward Island succeeded in winning the confidence of the legislative assembly on an Address-in-Reply and budget.[8]

The Lieutenant Governor Appoints a New Premier and Single-Party Minority Government

Lieutenant Governor Antoinette Perry made Progressive Conservative leader Dennis King Premier-designate on 30 April, saying:

“Islanders have given Mr. Dennis King and the Progressive Conservative Party the plurality of seats and I believe Islanders will want me to give him the opportunity he deserves to form a new government.”[9]

Peter Bevan-Baker, leader of the Green Party and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, responded to the Lieutenant Governor’s press release by differentiating between how Dennis King “has the confidence of the Lieutenant Governor” but that “The confidence in order to proceed with government here has to come from the legislative assembly.”[10] This is true, and it is often forgotten that the Confidence Convention means that the Governor expresses confidence in a party leader by commissioning him or her as First Minister, usually in Canada before the 1st session of the new legislature meets; only thereafter would the new ministry demonstrate whether it can also command the confidence of the elected assembly.

Her Honour formally commissioned King as Premier and swore in the new Progressive Conservative cabinet at Government House on 9 May 2019.[11] King opted to lead a single-party minority government rather than entering into a coalition government or even a supply agreement with the Greens or the Liberals and instead pledged to work with each party case by case in order to pass legislation,[12] rather like what Prime Minister Harper did between 2006 and 2011. In contrast, New Democratic Premier Horgan of British Columbia struck up a formal supply agreement with Andrew Weaver’s Green Party in 2017. This seems wise, because forming a coalition or entering into a supply agreement with the Greens, the Official Opposition which won only 4 fewer seats, would fundamentally de-stabilise the 66th General Assembly by depriving it of an effective opposition and turn Peter Bevan-Baker from Leader of the Opposition into the second-most important cabinet minister. Likewise, forming a coalition with the Liberals after they had just lost power would seem like a self-defeating proposition under the circumstances.

The Green Party’s Insincere Professions of “Civility” As Guise to Control Its Rivals

Like most leaders of the various iterations of the Green Party of Canada, Bevan-Baker professes to dislike partisanship, despite leading a political party, and he seeks shambolic partisan truces which last only as long as other parties follow the Greens’ diktats and rules; the moment another party disagrees, the Greens then attack, denounce, and question the legitimacy of that party on the grounds that it practises “the old way of politics.” Elizabeth May leads the Green Party of Canada in a similar manner, focusing on process issues and calling for political civility while strenuously denouncing those with whom she disagrees; she slandered Stephen Harper as a “fraud” in the 2008 French-language leaders’ debate, othered and questioned the Canadianness of Stephen Harper and other Conservatives, and drunkenly dropped f-bombs at Press Gallery Dinners as a “joke.”[13] Bevan-Baker does not operate within a standard adversarial politics and Government-Opposition dynamic of Responsible Government but something more akin to the Consensus Government of Northwest Territories and Nunavut or the consociational power-sharing governments of Northern Ireland.

Some journalists reported that Bevan-Baker had offered a confidence and supply agreement to Premier King’s Progressive Conservatives, but this description seems inaccurate based on what the Greens actually pursued. Since Bevan-Baker also sent this proposal to the Liberals, who are not in government and have no control over government bills, it should really be characterized more as the Green Party’s Code of Conduct because confidence-and-supply agreements, by definition, can only be struck with the party in government: an opposition party supports the governing party’s supply bills, thus keeping it in power, in exchange for some policy concessions.[14] But that is not what Bevan-Baker proposed. He did not seek a specific platform or set of policies in exchange for propping up the government, as Andrew Weaver’s Greens did from John Horgan’s New Democrats in British Columbia in 2017; instead Bevan-Baker sought general control over the process of legislative business and the government itself as if the Progressive Conservatives, Greens, and Liberals all formed part of a Grand Coalition, or that they were all Regular Members and Executive Councillors with no party affiliation under Consensus Government. He demanded not any policy concessions on environmental measures and the like but de facto control over the entire legislative process:

Private pre-budget consultations with each opposition party, prior to cabinet budget deliberations.

Consultation regarding ‘significant government appointments’ prior to the appointments being made.

Two weeks’ advance notice of bills to be introduced in the legislature, with briefings on those bills as requested.

Bevan-Baker even made this unintentionally revealing comment asserting that he, as Leader of the Opposition, plays a role in “running the government,” when he in fact remains an MLA and not an Executive Councillor:

You cannot go out and buy a cellphone these days without signing a 10-page agreement on what you can and can’t do. And here we’re trying to run the government of a province in Canada. So it’s, in my mind, absolutely necessary that we lay the groundwork … about what’s OK and what’s not OK and how we’re going to work together.[15]

In reality, the Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island already lay that groundwork which MLAs must follow.[16] If Bevan-Baker does not like how house business is conducted, then he should table a motion that the Rules be amended.

Conclusion: Surviving the First Two Votes of Confidence

Ultimately, the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals both rejected the Greens’ attempt to control the agenda of the Legislative Assembly.[17] The 1st session of the 66th General Assembly met on 13 June 2019 and elected Progressive Conservative MLA Colin Lavie as Speaker and Liberal MLA Hal Perry as Deputy Speaker, which effectively reduces the Progressive Conservatives to 12 and means that the King government will require the support of at least two MLAs on the opposition benches in order to get legislation through the house.[18] Lieutenant Governor Perry read the Speech from the Throne on 14 June[19], and the Legislative Assembly – all parties, including the Greens and Liberals – sustained the King government on the Address-in-Reply on 20 June 2019.[20] An on 12 July, the Legislative Assembly passed the King government’s budget, though not unanimously;[21] two Greens voted against, but six Greens, the six Liberals, and the Progressive Conservatives voted in favour.[22]

After Islanders elect their 66th General Assembly in April 2019, their next general election would be scheduled for October 2023 – and then postponed again until April 2024 if the federal election scheduled also remained scheduled for October 2023.[23] The CBC’s coverage does not mention this pertinent detail and operates on the presumption that the Legislative Assembly will without doubt continue only until 2023, even though this is not what the Elections Act says.[24] Therefore, the strong possibility remains that the Island’s fixed-date election law would schedule the 66th General Assembly to last for its absolute five-year maximum yet again; at minimum, it would schedule the upcoming 66th General Assembly to last four and a half years instead of merely four. Prince Edward Island’s legislature would have to amend the Election Act to schedule general elections in May or June in order to avoid a third early election. But even if the assembly does not amend or repeal the law, this minority legislature might prove the province’s saving grace by necessitating an election after say, two or three years, instead of four.

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Notes

[1] Prince Edward Island, “Proclamation: Dissolution of the Legislative Assembly,” Royal Gazette volume 145, no. 13 (Charlottetown: 30 March 2019), 347.

[2] Kevin Bisset, “Prince Edward Island Election Called for 23 April,” CTV News, 26 March 2019.

[3] Elections Prince Edward Island, “Provincial General Election – 19 April 2019: Results,” 19 August 2019.

[4] Sara Fraser, “Clear win for PC Natalie Jameson in P.E.I.’s deferred election,” CBC News, 15 July 2019.

[5] Sara Fraser, “PC minority, Green Opposition will be ‘a new era in Island politics,’” CBC News, 23 April 2019.

[6] Malcolm Campbell, “Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan Loses Seat,” CBC News, 23 April 2019.

[7] Brian Higgins, “Outgoing PEI Premier Says He ‘Has No Pretention of Hanging On’,” CBC News, 24 April. 2019.

[8] Kevin Yarr, “This PEI Minority Government a 1st, Says Historian,” CBC News, 17 June 2019.

[9] Kerry Campbell, “King Has Lieutenant-Governor’s Go-Ahead to Form Government,CBC News, 1 May 2019.

[10] Kerry Campbell, “King Has Lieutenant-Governor’s Go-Ahead to Form Government,CBC News, 1 May 2019.

[11] Government of Prince Edward Island, News Releases, “Prince Edward Island Premier and New Cabinet Sworn In Today,” 9 May 2019.

[12] Kevin Yarr, “P.E.I.’s New Minority Government Will Proceed ‘Issue-by-Issue,’ Says Premier-designate,” CBC News, 24 April 2019.

[13] Deddeda Stemler, “Elizabeth May Promises Greater Civility,” The Globe and Mail, 26 March 2011; Laura Stone, “Lunch With Elizabeth May: On Shrimp, The Senate, and Why the Prime Minister Is ‘Not Canadian’,” Global News, 5 June 2013; Andrew Russell, “Green Party Leader Elizabeth May Drops F-Bomb During Press Gallery Dinner Speech,” Global News, 10 May 2015.

[14] Kerry Campbell, “Greens Propose Ground Rules for 3 Parties in Minority Government,” CBC News, 3 June 2019; CBC News, King Considering Green’s Draft Ground Rules Agreement,” 3 June 2019.

[15] Kerry Campbell, “Greens Propose Ground Rules for 3 Parties in Minority Government,” CBC News, 3 June 2019.

[16] Prince Edward Island, Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown: Legislative Assembly, April 2018).

[17] Kevin Yarr, “P.E.I. Minority Government Could Run to 2023, Say 3 Party Leaders,CBC News, 12 June 2019.

[18] Prince Edward Island, Legislative Assembly, Hansard, 66th General Assembly, 1st session, 13 June 2019: 2-3.

[19] Prince Edward Island, Legislative Assembly, Hansard, 66th General Assembly, 1st session, 14 June 2019: 4-14.

[20] Prince Edward Island, Legislative Assembly, Hansard, 66th General Assembly, 1st session, 20 June 2019: 191.

[21] Prince Edward Island, Legislative Assembly, Hansard, 66th General Assembly, 1st session, 12 July 2019: 1067.

[22] Kerry Campbell, “King Government Passes Budget as Spring Sitting Comes to a Close,CBC News, 12 July 2019.

[23] Kevin Yarr, “P.E.I. Minority Government Could Run to 2023, Say 3 Party Leaders,CBC News, 12 June 2019.

[24] Kevin Yarr, “P.E.I. Minority Government Could Run to 2023, Say 3 Party Leaders,CBC News, 12 June 2019.

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4 Responses to Prince Edward Island’s First Successful Minority Government

  1. Mark Roth says:

    I am uncomfortable with the Lt. Governor suggesting that King forming government is an “opportunity he deserves.” He certainly was the only person who was capable of forming a government with no parties willing to form a coalition or enter into supply and confidence deals, and thus the best person to appoint. But does not saying that he “deserves” the job devalue a legislative assembly into a first past the post electoral college?

    Like

    • Ronald McCallum says:

      Mark,

      “I am uncomfortable with the Lt. Governor suggesting that King forming government is an “opportunity he deserves.” But does not saying that he “deserves” the job devalue a legislative assembly into a first past the post electoral college?”

      I DISAGREE with your interpretation: The Crown represented by the Lieutenant Governor formally appoints, swears-in and commissions the Premier and the Executive Council in accordance with the Constitution Act 1867, Part V — Provincial Constitutions, Sections 62 and 63:

      “Application of Provisions referring to Lieutenant Governor

      62. The Provisions of this Act referring to the Lieutenant Governor extend and apply to the Lieutenant Governor for the Time being of each Province, or other the Chief Executive Officer or Administrator for the Time being carrying on the Government of the Province, by whatever Title he is designated.”

      and

      “Appointment of Executive Officers for Ontario and Quebec

      63. The Executive Council of Ontario and of Quebec shall be composed of such Persons as the Lieutenant Governor from Time to Time thinks fit, and in the first instance of the following Officers, namely, — the Attorney General, the Secretary and Registrar of the Province, the Treasurer of the Province, the Commissioner of Crown Lands, and the Commissioner of Agriculture and Public Works, with in Quebec the Speaker of the Legislative Council and the Solicitor General. (31)”

      How could the Legislative Assembly be an electoral college when technically it legally did NOT exist until the Members of the Legislative Assembly were summoned to meet in the First Session of the Sixtieth-six Session (66th) General Assembly, and had sworn/affirmed their Allegiances to Her Majesty The Queen; and assembled to elect a Speaker in response to a letter from the Private Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor on the Thirteenth (13th) Day of June 2019. The Legislative Assembly gets its first chance to grant or not to grant its confidence in the Reply to the Speech From The Throne.

      Ronald A. McCallum

      Sources:

      The Constitution of Canada: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/

      The First Meeting of the First Session of the 66th General Assembly: http://archives.assembly.pe.ca/archives/?file=20190613&number=1&year=2019

      Like

    • Mark,

      I would not, simply because LG Perry followed the standard Canadian practice by commissioning King to form a government. What else could she have done? Let’s not forget that MacLauchlan both lost his own seat and announced his intention to resign as Premier. The same happened federally in January 2006 when Paul Martin announced on election night that he would resign, which paved the way for GG Jean to appoint Harper as PM on 6 February 2006.

      There must always be a Premier, so only one of two options could have happened:
      1. Either MacLauchlan would have rescinded his own intention to resign, stayed on as Premier, and advised the LG to summon the 1st session of the new legislature — which he and most of his ministers could not have attended because they had lost their seats. Then the Legislative Assembly would have defeated the Liberals on the Address-in-Reply and forced the LG to appoint King as premier then anyway; or
      2. What actually ended up happening.

      Option 1 is, frankly, totally ridiculous and farcical. Option 2 saves everyone time and makes practical sense: the leader of the party who won the plurality of seats should get the first try at governing when the incumbent bows out.

      If you want the elected assembly to become something more, then you need to advocate Continental European-style confirmation voting.

      James

      Like

    • Mark Roth says:

      In reply to both replies:

      I am not arguing that they Lt Governor did anything wrong or had any choice but to commission a King government. That is not something I would imagine disputing, he was the only person who could be offered the job. Nor am I arguing that he was wrong to accept the commission or that anyone was in place to deny him the commission.

      I am merely stating that I have a problem with using the word “deserves.” I see the wording as an implication that an election night plurality of seats creates an obligation to appoint a candidate. If the Greens and Liberals had somehow cobbled together a coalition, wouldn’t King still have “deserved” to be appointed based on the election night results?

      Like

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