They’re back! Incumbents rule after provincial elections

This fall is a busy season for elections, and the first full week of October saw four rounds of polls in Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Ontario. The votes are in and the dust has settled — and not much has changed.

Perhaps Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a trend setter? It seems 2011 is a good year for re-election. In fact, some voters may wonder why we headed to the polls at all.

Here’s a quick look at the results:

Prince Edward Island: Liberal

The first election of the week seemed to set the tone — the Liberal Party under leader Robert Ghiz was elected for another term, taking 22 of the province’s 27 seats. Admittedly, they did lose a little ground — a single seat to Olive Crane’s Progressive Conservative Party, who won the remaining five. The New Democrat Party, Green Party and any independents were once again shut out.

Were PEI residents surprised? Experts call the election another case of history repeating itself. If you look at election results over the past 50 years, you’ll notice that once a party gains power it tends to stick around for a second term — or third and fourth.

However, for many voters the numbers didn’t add up: the PCs garnered about 40 per cent of the votes — just 10 per cent less than the Liberals — but only won five seats. Critics like Fair Vote Canada are arguing for reform, noting that first-past-the-post system isn’t representing what voters want.

Manitoba: NDP

Premier Greg Selinger made a modest gain this time around, winning an additional seat to add to his party’s previous majority of 36. The PCs held their ground with 19 seats — though leader Hugh McFadyen soon announced his plans to step down. The Liberals were left with just a single seat in the new government, making leader Jon Gerrard a “caucus of one”.

“Tonight, we have made history in Manitoba,” said Selinger in his victory speech. Indeed, this win is the fourth majority in a row for the NDP Party in Manitoba.  (Read more.)

Ontario: Liberal

Premier Dalton McGuinty may be back, but he’s one seat short of a majority. Even though the Liberals won their third straight mandate, they’ll soldier on with a minority government of 53 seats.

The remaining two parties gained momentum: The PC Party under Tim Hudak gained 12 seats for a total of 37, and the NDP under Andrea Horwath gained 7 for a total of 17. Neither the Green Party nor any independent parties won a seat in this election, and the Green Party lost 5 per cent of the popular vote since the last election.

“It’s time to move forward the Ontario way, it’s about building and working together,” McGuinty said in his victory speech in Ottawa. “It’s not about giving in to defeatism or negativity. It’s about building a bright future with ideas, enthusiasm and hope. We didn’t listen to the naysayers, we listened to Ontarians.”

But just how many Ontarians did officials listen to? This year’s election hit a new low: only half of the province’s eligible voters turned up to have their say. (Read more.)

Northwest Territories: Yet to be determined

Déjà vu? Most of the legislature will be back following this week’s elections. With one exception, most of the new blood will be coming from ridings that didn’t have incumbents.

So who will be running the province? That title is still up for grabs. In NWT, the voting system works a little differently — the territory doesn’t have political parties. Individuals run for its consensus government and the winning candidates make up the legislature. Then, Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) elect the premier among themselves. The premier then selects six members for his or her cabinet, and the remaining MLAs act as the unofficial opposition.

The second vote hasn’t been held yet, but so far four candidates are in the running. However, not every is happy with this system — but it’s too late to change the procedure this time around. (Read more.)

Another wrinkle in the election: Like Ontario, NWT also saw its lowest voter turnout since 1999 when the territory started keeping records — though some critics attribute the low attendance to I.D. issues, not voter apathy.

Overall, it’s been a week of return to power — and a week of critique of how provinces elect their leaders. Experts and analysts have many theories as to why incumbents are enjoying unusual success this year. There are a lot of tough issues on the table — namely the economy, taxes and health care — which could have swayed voters’ opinions right up to the last minute. Perhaps we’re simply adverse to change.

So will the trend continue? We’ll have to wait a few weeks to find out. Newfoundland and Labrador residents head to the polls on October 11, followed by Saskatchewan voters on November 7. In both provinces, the incumbents are leading the polls — for now. As these close elections have shown, anything can happen in the final days.

However, British Columbia’s Christy Clark and Quebec’s Jean Charest may not like their odds — both are avoiding elections this fall.

Photo: The Legislative Building in Charlottetown, the seat of the Prince Edward Island Government. © Arpad Benedek