Nonsense flows through PEI

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According to G.K. Chesterton “The river of human nonsense flows on forever.”  And it’s especially true when those who follow and practice public affairs open their jaws and opine on it.  Take the PEI election… please.

First, that was some victory by the Greens, reported well ahead of time.  Afterward there should have been a few red faces since the Progressive Conservatives won a plurality of seats.  Maybe “news” should consist more of what did happen and less of what journalists wish was going to.

Had the Greens received a majority in PEI, or even a plurality, one might have expected their leader Peter Bevan-Baker to say something like “Welcome to a new day in Prince Edward Island!  Welcome to a new era of Island politics.  Welcome to the tremendous honour and the tremendous responsibility of governing.”  Instead the Tories got the most seats and their leader Dennis King said… exactly what I just quoted.

How exactly giving power back to the party that has alternated with the Liberals in the province since the invention of the secret ballot meant a new era was unclear.  As for a new day, well, we get one every 24 hours and always have.

Worse, King’s whole assumption that he just got elected premier is wrong.  His party got 12 seats out of 27, the Greens 8 and the Liberals 6 (with one to be decided in a byelection because of the death of the Green candidate and his son during the campaign).  Since you need 14 for a majority in PEI it’s entirely possible the actual result will be a Red-Green coalition with the Tories as Official Opposition.

In Canada we do not elect premiers or prime ministers, something the people aspiring to those jobs seem remarkably unaware of.  We elect legislatures, and ministries hold office only so long as they command the confidence of a majority of legislators.  (For the same reason the CBC and others are quite wrong to say the Greens “became the official Opposition”.  They might, if there’s a Tory-Liberal coalition or the Tories go it alone.  Otherwise, no.)

King wasn’t done spewing fatuities either, of course.  He is a politician.  He said the result “shows that Prince Edward Island wants the parties to put partisanship behind them … to do what’s best for Prince Edward Island.”

Prince Edward Island is a place.  It doesn’t want anything.  Or vote.  Individual people who live there vote.  And they don’t want any one thing … except probably free money, like voters everywhere nowadays.

Different voters want different specific things.  Some wanted the Tory platform or at least enough of it to hold their noses and vote Tory.  Some wanted the Liberal platform or at least bits of it, though fewer noses were held.  Some wanted the Green platform or at least enough of it to vote Green.  And a straggling few wanted the NDP platform.

How can any sane person say voters who all went out and voted for specific political parties wanted to “put partisanship behind them”?  Or wanted the parties to do so?  Parties are all about partisanship.  When’s the last time you asked your doctor to put medicine behind him?

To be sure, partisanship has an evil reputation it has worked hard to earn.  But it’s not because different parties put forward different programs.  It’s because they do it so nastily and mindlessly.  If the point is to put partisanship behind you, why have an election with parties putting forward competing platforms and asking voters to choose?  Oh right.  Because the alternative is Stalin winning 99.9%.  Dang.

Likewise, the blather about doing “what’s best for Prince Edward Island” misses the whole point about parties, that they exist because there is lively disagreement about what is best for Prince Edward Island, Canada, Botswana, or wherever you live.  It’s exactly why every real election features groups with different ideas about governing putting out competing platforms.  How do politicians not know that?

The usual suspects, aka Andrew Coyne, are already saying with PR it wouldn’t be this way.  But in PEI it would, because the vote split 37% Tory, 31% Green and 29% Liberal which would under pure PR give them 10.5, 8.3 and 7.8 seats respectively (the NDP with a feeble 3% gets the remaining .4 of a seat).  Same ranking, same coalition possibilities.  No new day.

As for the novel Green perspective, Bevan-Baker reacted to the result with “I’m a strong believer in the capacity of minority government to create a collaborative environment where competing parties can put the interests of constituents and Islanders first.”  He and the Tory leader are channeling one another, and through both channels the river of nonsense flows.

Frankly I’ve long been perplexed by the Green party.  Not by their having daffy beliefs.  By their claiming to have a radically different vision of the world leading to radically different policies, organizational structures and political style then trotting out tediously familiar positions in tediously familiar language.

To be fair not much differentiates most parties in the twilight of the welfare state, even if the PCs did promise beer and wine in convenience stores.  You can hardly say oh well if the Greens had won we’d finally have had concern for the environment given Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax and endless chatter about it.

Speaking of Trudeau, not about to be outdone in the “you can’t seriously be that vacuous” department, he greeted the ouster of yet another provincial Liberal administration with this pablum: “Islanders have chosen to elect a minority government led by the Progressive Conservative Party of Prince Edward Island…. Known for its red beaches and rich farmland and fisheries, Prince Edward Island has a long and proud heritage… I look forward to working with the provincial government through the Atlantic Growth Strategy to create jobs for middle class Canadians and more opportunities for young people.  Together, we will continue to foster stable and long term growth, while protecting the environment and combatting climate change.”

Brushing aside the red beaches as a red herring and the proud heritage as greasy flattery, I object first that “Islanders” didn’t choose to elect a minority government.  Not one person voted for that option, let alone a majority or all of them.  Second, he looks forward to working with the government on his tiresome talking points about the middle class and climate change exactly as if people who just, for the most part, rejected his party had just elected it.  Terrible.

In PEI voters tried in vain to detect important differences between the candidates put before them and split pretty evenly.  And the river of nonsense flowed serenely on, with the great Green breakthrough just giving its muddy waters a slightly different tint.

Photo Credit: National Observer

More from John Robson.    Follow John on Twitter at @thejohnrobson

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One Response to “Nonsense flows through PEI”

  1. Jared Milne

    Your comments about the PCs only winning a plurality of seats are arguably correct, but couldn’t it also be said that the constitutional convention has emerged that only the party that gets the most seats should have the right to form government?

    You probably recall the anger that erupted in 2008 when it seemed that Stephen Harper was about to be deposed by a coalition led by Stéphane Dion. And then there was the uproar in the 1920s over the King-Byng crisis. So while the Greens and Grits forming government might be allowed under the written rules of the Constitution, it’s prohibited under the unwritten rules.

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