P.E.I. has not seen anything like a minority government since the 19th century, said MacDonald, when it happened four times. Twice, the government fell before it could pass any legislation or motions.
“In 1858 the Liberals came to the house with a majority of one. They had won the election the previous year with two seats of a majority but one of the members found out he wasn’t qualified to be a member and resigned,” said MacDonald.
“The Liberals came to the house and said OK we have to elect a speaker who’d like to be speaker. Would the opposition like to supply a speaker and the opposition said I don’t think so. And the government had to call an election.”
In 1891, after a narrow victory for the Conservatives, several members left the legislature to run in a federal election. The Conservatives lost the resulting byelections, and with it their majority in the legislature.
“They wanted to call an election,” said MacDonald.
“The governor said no, we should see whether the opposition can form a government. And the Conservatives actually resigned. The opposition formed a government and they ruled for two years, but they had a majority.”
A 2-party system
In the other two cases the government formed a coalition to create a majority, something King has said he does not want to do. That the most recent coalition fell apart in 1879 is significant, because the province’s party system solidified in the 1880s into the two-party system familiar to Islanders up until the April election.
With only two parties, one of them is going to have a majority.
“I am fascinated and I’m impressed so far with the attitude shown by the leaders of the parties that that they do seem to want to make this work,” said MacDonald.
“They don’t want to drive Islanders to the polls again without trying to make it work. And if it does work it’ll be a level of consensus administration that we just haven’t seen before in P.E.I.”
King has said he intends to operate the government on an issue-by-issue basis, and he believes he has the votes to pass both the throne speech and the budget.
Credit: Kevin Yarr