Skip to main content

If the polls are to be believed, Prince Edward Islanders could elect Canada’s first Green government in Tuesday’s provincial election. This would be the second time in one week that an incumbent premier with a majority government was defeated after a single term in office.

Traditionally, incumbent governments in Canada have been re-elected more often than not. The last time a prime minister leading a majority government was defeated after a single term was in 1935, when Conservative R.B. Bennett lost to Liberal William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Back-to-back wins have been typical for premiers, as well. Since the Second World War ended, only the NDP’s Bob Rae was confined to a single term in Ontario − until Liberal Kathleen Wynne failed to win a second term, defeated by Progressive Conservative Doug Ford.

Two terms have been the general rule for governments in Quebec, too. But Pauline Marois’s minority government was replaced after less than two years by a majority Liberal government under Philippe Couillard, which was in turn replaced by a majority government led by François Legault of the Coalition Avenir Québec.

Once-stable New Brunswick has had back-to-back-to-back alternating one-term majority governments. Blaine Higgs’s Progressive Conservatives are currently governing with only a minority.

In British Columbia, Christy Clark enjoyed one full term as Liberal premier after succeeding Gordon Campbell, before going down to defeat in 2017 at the hands of John Horgan’s NDP, with the help of the Greens.

When Justin Trudeau won a majority government in 2015, many people − including some possible aspirants to the Conservative leadership − assumed he was destined to win a second majority. Now, the Liberals are either trailing or even with the Conservatives, according to various polls, Mr. Trudeau is the least popular of the national leaders, and a one-term government is a distinct possibility.

Across the country, we witness growing voter impatience with the status quo, whatever that status may be.

In Alberta, Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party defeated a discredited NDP government that had defeated a discredited Progressive Conservative government.

Doug Ford’s for-the-little-guy PCs take positive delight in sticking it to the progressive downtown elites. But in B.C., it was the left, not the populist right, that did in the incumbents. The same could happen in PEI.

So what gives? Why are voters in such a pox-on-all-your-houses mood? Growing cultural insecurity appears to be a factor. In Quebec, Mr. Legault’s plans to ban the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by some public servants may or may not be motivated by secularism, but it also comforts people worried about immigrant minorities submerging traditional Christian culture.

Polling by Frank Graves at Ekos suggests that, over the past decade, a growing number of Canadians − 40 per cent, according to numbers released earlier this week − have come to believe that too many non-white immigrants are being admitted. Conservatives are especially likely to hold that view.

(The Interactive Voice Response poll of 1,045 respondents had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20).

At the July, 2016, gathering of the Council of the Federation in Whitehorse, three of the premiers were women and two of the premiers were gay. It looks as though the provincial premiers attending this summer’s gathering in Saskatoon will all be straight white men. This might not be a coincidence. Worries over immigration and changing cultural norms could be driving a backlash.

Economic insecurity is also an issue. Combating climate change may be an urgent priority, but conservative politicians from Toronto to Edmonton are having a field day attacking the Trudeau government’s “job-killing carbon tax.” Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is hoping opposition to the tax will help him defeat Mr. Trudeau.

That said, populist protest is mild in Canada. Mr. Ford’s PCs won ridings with large numbers of immigrant voters. Maxime Bernier’s nascent People’s Party has made no impact so far.

Pendulums swing. The populist impatience that appears to be driving voters to throw all the bums out will eventually be replaced by something else, though who knows what that something will be.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball called an election this week for May 16. The Liberals defeated the incumbent Tories four years ago. Polls suggest a tight race this time. Will Mr. Ball hang on? If he does, who knows − it could be the start of a trend.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column stated R.B. Bennett was a Progressive Conservative when he lost to Liberal William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1935; however, the Progressive and Conservative parties merged in 1942. R.B. Bennett was a Conservative candidate. This version has been corrected.