PEI 2019: Provincial assembly election and MMP referendum

Prince Edward Island election day was today. Results appear to be pointing towards a lead in votes and seats for the Progressive Conservatives. Thus the expectation (at least according to some polling) that the Greens might form the government looks unlikely now. The Green Party appears to be in second place, although closer (in votes) to the third place Liberals than to first place. The Liberals are the outgoing governing party, with a seat majority.

It looks like it will be a minority situation, which I think will be a first for PEI.

Voters were also voting in a referendum on whether to replace FPTP with a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system, with the voter brochure showing it as an open-list variant. That looks like a close call at this point, but most likely it has been defeated. To pass, the MMP proposal requires not only a majority of votes, but also a win in 17 of the 27 districts. At the moment, CBC is reporting it will win no more than 15 (and may not have a provincewide majority anyway).

PEI has been here before, having voted in a non-binding ballot (conducted by phone or online) for MMP in 2016, and having defeated an earlier MMP referendum by a big majority in 2005.

Today’s referendum had an odd ballot format: the NO option appears above the YES option. I am not sure I have ever seen that before.

(There is one district that did not vote today in the assembly election; a candidate, of the Greens, died in a canoe accident last Friday, so there will be a by-election at a future date.)

18 thoughts on “PEI 2019: Provincial assembly election and MMP referendum

  1. MMP was narrowly rejected in the PEI electoral reform referendum, 51% to 49%, but in a curious twist the “Yes” vote won or led in 15 of 27 election districts. In short, FPTP delivered a majority reversal against itself – I don’t think it gets any more ironical than that. At any rate, the popular vote was decided in the three westernmost districts, where MMP was rejected by an overwhelming 77%-to-23% margin; in the remaining 24 districts “Yes” prevailed by 52% to 48%. The three westernmost districts are also an area where the Greens fared poorly relative to the rest of the province, winning only 13.5% of the vote there.

    The ballot placement of “No” before “Yes” was curious indeed, and could have contributed to the referendum outcome. However, I have to wonder if some Green voters backed FPTP on the assumption that PR was no longer necessary since the Greens were expected to win under the existing system (and while the Greens did not win, FPTP did not penalize them either in terms of seats).

    I have mixed feelings about the non-implementation of the earlier referendum result in PEI on low turnout grounds, given that’s been very much a recurring issue in Puerto Rico. From that perspective, it would seem to me that the decision to hold a further referendum, where the proposal was narrowly rejected by voters on a much higher turnout rate, was the correct one. However, given the narrow outcome of today’s referendum, I don’t think the issue will go away; on the contrary, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be revisited a few years down the road.

    As for the election, the Greens may have not prevailed but the mold has been broken, and they’re now the second largest party in terms of both seats and votes, in what is now a three-party system – a major political milestone for the province, and I would think for Canada as well.


    • Looking at the poll i.e. polling station results in yesterday’s PEI election, there were notable differences in the results for advance polls, and those for regular polls. In the advance polls, the election results were as follows:

      Green – 26.3%
      Independent – 0.4%
      Liberal – 32.8%
      NDP – 3.2%
      PC – 37.3%

      Meanwhile, regular polls had the following results:

      Green – 34.5%
      Independent – 0.3%
      Liberal – 26.6%
      NDP – 2.8%
      PC – 35.8%

      Differences were also evident in the referendum results, where “No” won 53%-to-47% in the advance polls, but “Yes” narrowly prevailed in the regular polls, 50.4%-to-49.6%, and carried 16 of 27 districts (one short of the required 17 though).


  2. I am wondering whether referendum turnout was significantly lower in the one riding where there was no general election due to the death of the Greens’ candidate.

    I personally have always found electoral reform referendums to be ridiculous. They almost always involve asking the majority to voluntarily cede power to minorities. I find that absurd. I also have never seen any evidence of voters punishing a party that imposed electoral reform in parliament rather than through a referendum, so I still find the insistence on referenda to change them to be absurd. I am thankful that the US, though we are likely decades away from PR, will only need an act of Congress to change it.

    I also find it interesting that the overwhelming assumption is that the Tories will form a minority government when the Greens and Liberals have a majority together. Did they rule that out or is the Canadian obsession with FPTP so strong that a coalition is unfathomable even when there’s a confidence and supply agreement in BC?


    • Excluding District 9, there’s also a noticeably larger total (valid) vote gap between the election proper and the referendum in the advance polls (36,639 referendum votes and 37,902 election votes) than in the regular polls (42,014 and 42,419, respectively).

      I understand the PEI Greens are closer to the Progressive Conservatives than to the Liberals. Apparently ideological differences between the latter two are not as pronounced as in the rest of Canada.


    • “I also have never seen any evidence of voters punishing a party that imposed electoral reform in parliament rather than through a referendum, so I still find the insistence on referenda to change them to be absurd.”

      The problem is there is no good reason for major parties in power using a majoritarian electoral system to a proportional system, as it could only reduce its powers and its ability to push its agenda across. And any changes they would make is very likely to be made in its (perceived) advantage, and PR is most certainly not in any major party’s self-interest.

      Having said that, I don’t think a referendum is absolutely required to change the electoral system (unless it is constitutionally mandated), I think a cross-party consensus is sufficient for such changes.

      “Did they rule that out or is the Canadian obsession with FPTP so strong that a coalition is unfathomable even when there’s a confidence and supply agreement in BC?”

      I don’t recall any coalition talk during the election. Given the Tories got a pretty strong minority and that I doubt it is any party’s interest to form a coalition, keeping a minority government seems reasonable to me.


      • I am happy to be corrected (I am short of time just now) but the only electoral referendums I am aware of that resulted in actual system change are those in New Zealand, the ACT and Maine. I am quite certain that no supermajority electoral referendum has ever carried.

        Asking people who have no experience of a different voting system to vote on the merits of that system is largely a waste of time without a recent and spectacular reversed majority, especially where the opponents of reform are ready with flying monkeys trained to spread Fear Uncertainty Doubt. You could classify various Canadian referendums as successful at a pinch, except for the Canadian practice of inventing ever higher barriers for electoral reform to jump over.


    • How is a majority ceding power to a minority? If they were a majority, they would have a majority under almost any election system.

      Unless you mean a minority that can occasionally pretend to be a majority giving up its power to overrule everyone else.


  3. The correlation between the percent No vote in a district and the Green share of the 4-party vote is R=-0.65, with the Liberal vote share is R=+0.42 and with the Conservative vote share is R=0.00. No surprises here.


  4. Electoral Reform lost by a very slender margin. Perhaps the MMP system is disliked in PEI, was there any option for the STV system? I would think that a small island like PEI would be better off with STV than MMP; and the island is somewhat similar to other islands like Malta and Tasmania.

    A lot of European countries before, during, and after WW1 changed their electoral systems to PR. What was the reason for this, albeit this was before universal and female suffrage? France switched to PR in 1986, why didn’t that change stick? If it is change for partisan reasons, then the change probably isn’t going to stick? Why did Australia’s switch from FPTP to Preferential Voting stick despite benefiting the Right Wing Parties? Labor didn’t change it back once it came to power.


    • STV was an option in the 2017 postal plebiscite, which had a very low turnout. MMP was the most popular alternative to FPTP on that occasion.


  5. Does anyone know of a prior instance of the Greens getting the first or second largest number of seats in a legislative body above the local level — state, provincial or national?


  6. If memory serves, the Greens in B-W came to power in an election that came a couple of weeks after the Fukushima reactor accident in Japan.


    • The Greens were already ahead of the SPD in some polls in the run-up to the 2011 Landtag election, even before the nuclear incident in Fukushima. They were second at that election but able to form a coalition to oust the CDU. At the 2016 election, they got the most votes of any party.

      The Greens also came second in the neighbouring state of Bavaria (which uses a quite different variant of MMP) last year.


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