By Luke Montalbano
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King was re-elected to a supermajority in the Provincial Legislature, winning 22 out of 27 of the seats. Photo Credit: Toronto Star.
On April 3rd, 2023, Premier Dennis King of the Prince Edward Island Progressive Conservative Party (Centre to Centre-Right) was re-elected to a majority government, winning 22 out of 27 seats in the Provincial Legislature and 55.92% of the popular vote. The Liberal Party of P.E.I. became the Official Opposition with three seats (down from four seats) after the Green Party of P.E.I. lost six of its eight seats. Although the size of this victory may overwhelm many at first, particularly those who know P.E.I. to be a generally Liberal-voting province at the federal level when one analyses the way in which Dennis King has governed since his narrow victory in 2019, the reason for such a resounding victory becomes evident.
One must begin by stating, particularly for American readers, that Canadian provincial politics is not tied to federal/national politics in any substantial way. Many provinces that vote for one party on a federal level may vote for an entirely different party on a provincial level. Indeed, the vast majority of prominent provincial parties are unaffiliated with any national party. This contrasts substantially with the United States of America in which the vast majority of parties at the state level are closely intertwined with their national counterparts. Thus, this victory did not come about from the unpopularity of the current Canadian Prime Minister nor any particularly important national issue, but rather from the effectiveness of a local party that has used centrism and pragmatism to its electoral advantage.
Throughout his tenure as Premier and during the roughly month-long campaign, King promised a form of politics that promotes kindness and pluralism as its core values. Initially, King was elected to a minority government, forcing the Progressive Conservatives to work with opposition parties to pass policy. However, during King’s term, the P.C.'s were able to form a majority government due to resignations from opposition party members and succeeding by-elections.
Throughout history, the Canadian Maritimes have voted for parties that carry centrist platforms, a trend which has been particularly noticeable in recent provincial election cycles; in Nova Scotia, the moderate Progressive Conservatives defeated the center-left Liberal Party of Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland and Labrador, the centrist Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador defeated the center-right Progressive Conservatives.
What defines Maritime centrist politics is a distinct near-unanimous commitment to social centrism/liberalism paired with a firm commitment to pragmatic spending, which balances generally fiscally liberal and fiscally conservative viewpoints. In this sense, centrist parties generally believe in retaining relatively balanced budgets but will spend extensively on welfare programs, willing to risk running a deficit if need be. For example, the P.E.I. P.C. platform proposed approximately $138 million in spending, with $55 million being directed to healthcare funding (it must be noted that the population of P.E.I. is approximately 160,000).
Additionally, Dennis King’s popularity amongst Premiers has consistently been the highest since the COVID-19 Pandemic in which the province suffered 56 deaths per 100,000 people—the lowest of any province in Canada. Because the small province was relatively unimpacted in the long term by the Pandemic, it has seen one of the fastest economic rebounds in the past three years, with relatively steady GDP growth since the end of lockdowns.
Although this article certainly only covers the surface of the many nuanced reasons for Premier Dennis King’s supermajority P.C. government, we should not be surprised. Indeed, his approval rating just two years ago sat at 80%. His pragmatism, pluralism, non-toxic politics, and generally effective governance have allowed his Progressive Conservative Party to dominate Prince Edward Island and if he continues to follow this path, it is difficult to see him losing his grasp on government four years on from now.
Luke Montalbano is a political columnist for Voices of Gen Z and an incoming student at Dartmouth College (Class of 2027).