Prince Edward Island’s Green leader is contemplating making history – as the party’s first Canadian premier.
Islanders will go to the polls April 23 in a provincial election announced late Tuesday.
Recent polls have put the Greens out in front, and Leader Peter Bevan-Baker believes his party can win a province that has only ever been governed by the Liberals or Tories.
“That possibility is there. Emotionally, politically and intellectually, I feel like I’m ready for that challenge, in a way that I wasn’t perhaps a year ago,” he said.
“This could be a truly historic moment not only in Canadian politics but for the future of our grandchildren.”
Bevan-Baker, 56, grew up in Scotland and immigrated to Canada in 1985, living in Newfoundland and then Ontario before settling in Prince Edward Island in 2003. He became a Canadian citizen in 1992.
A dentist by profession, he became his party’s first member of the P.E.I. legislature in 2015, following nine unsuccessful bids provincially and nationally for the party.
Since then, the Greens captured a second seat on the Island, and have been successful in getting members elected in other provinces, including three during last year’s New Brunswick election.
Bevan-Baker – who celebrated Tuesday’s election call by playing “First Call” on his trumpet at a nomination meeting – said he believes the time for the Green party has arrived.
“That sort of global movement away from conventional politics and unimaginative politicians, you see that expressed everywhere,” he said, citing recent elections in U.S. and Ontario as expressions of disgruntlement with conventional politics.
“I think what’s happening on P.E.I. is a local expression of that global phenomenon,” he said.
A Corporate Research Associates opinion poll released this month suggests the Greens had a healthy lead, followed by the Progressive Conservatives, who picked a new leader, Dennis King, in February.
The Liberals were in third place, the poll suggests.
Bevan-Baker said that both delights and surprises him. He said he has to accept the possibility of forming government.
“We’ve crafted a platform, that for perhaps the first time ever in Canada, a Green platform that might have to be implemented. You come at it with a different lens. You can’t be just aspirational and vague and uncosted. You have to have a detailed and costed platform, which we have,” he said.
But Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan has issued a caution about the Green party, saying the province’s future is too important to risk on uncertain expensive social experiments.
Bevan-Baker said he’s not sure what MacLauchlan is referring to, but believes it could be his suggestion that P.E.I. would be a good place for a pilot program for a universal basic income. He said that would be expensive at first, but pay off in the long run.
For his part, MacLauchlan used the first full day of the campaign to promise at least 3,500 new jobs over the next four years.
He said that’s in addition to the 5,000 full-time jobs added over the last four years.
“As I have said numerous times since I became premier, the creation of jobs and job choices for Islanders has to be the number one priority of government.”
“Our record in this field is strong. However, our present success is no reason to take the foot off the gas. Support for workers, for employers and for the next generations of workers needs to continue.”
The announcement includes a $4.5 million P.E.I. Worker Benefit to assist 12,600 low-income Islanders.
The Liberals would also spend $750 million on infrastructure programs to improve roads, bridges and schools, with a focus on job creation.
MacLauchlan said money would also be spent on a number of training programs, including new vocational facilities at Island high schools, and the small business tax rate would be reduced to 2.5 per cent by 2020.
Repeated calls requesting an interview with Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King were not returned Wednesday.
Bevan-Baker said his party’s platform will be released in its entirety – likely next week.
While the parties have begun to pitch their issues, Don Desserud, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island, said he believes the election will come down to personalities.
“It’s going to be an election based on the personalities of the leaders and people are going to vote according to whether they like or dislike the leaders of the parties,” Desserud said.
“The Progressive Conservatives are rising in the polls. The Liberals are falling in the polls and the Greens are staying quite steady high in the polls. I think it all has to do with the leaders and how well they’re liked,” he said.
The Island economy has been strong and the Conference Board of Canada recently said P.E.I. would lead the country in economic growth for the year ahead.
Desserud said voters blame the government when the economy is bad, but unfortunately for the Liberals, they don’t often credit the government when the economy is good.
“The Green party has been prudent in the way in which they have presented themselves and their policies and have appealed to the small ‘c’ conservatism of the Island. That’s worked really well for them, but I think right now they’re benefiting from the fact they are the alternative,” Desserud said.