P.E.I. Green candidate Matt MacFarlane has won the Borden-Kinkora byelection by a 262-vote margin, with Progressive Conservative candidate Carmen Reeves coming in second.
Unofficial results show that MacFarlane earned 1,226 votes for 48.9 per cent of the 2,507 votes cast, compared to the PC candidate's 964 votes, for 38.5 per cent.
Liberal Gordon Sobey came in third with 272 votes and the NDP's Karen Morton was in last place with 40.
Including the mail-in votes and three days of advance polls, Elections P.E.I. said almost 59 per cent of eligible voters in the district had cast a ballot by Wednesday night. The agency noted that there was a 92 per cent return rate from people who requested mail-in ballots.
The most recent P.E.I. provincial byelection before this one, in Cornwall-Meadowbank, had a voter turnout of 55 per cent.
MacFarlane, a lawyer with Key Murray Law in Summerside, lives in Augustine Cove on the Island's south shore.
Matt MacFarlane, shown campaigning earlier this month, said the byelection amounted to 'a mid-term exam for the Dennis King government.' (CBC)
The byelection was made necessary by the resignation of Progressive Conservative Jamie Fox, who left the seat after deciding to run for the Conservatives in the next federal election.
"This was a mid-term exam for the Dennis King government," MacFarlane told supporters Wednesday night. "The residents and voters of District 19 graded that exam, and they graded it with a failing grade."
He said the vote showed that Prince Edward Islanders are unhappy with the King government's management of health care, and said he would make advocating for the return of a full eight-bed intensive care unit at the Prince County Hospital his top priority as MLA.
Health care pushed buttons
Health care became a major issue for King's PC government in recent weeks after services at that hospital in nearby Summerside were reduced.
The hospital's intensive-care unit was downgraded to a progressive-care unit in mid-2023, meaning patients who needed critical care would be sent to Charlottetown's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, an hour's drive away, if their condition didn't warrant being airlifted to hospitals off the Island.
A large crowd filled a conference room at Credit Union Place in Summerside on Feb. 1 for a town hall to address concerns about health services at the city's Prince County Hospital. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC)
Then in January, Health P.E.I. cited staff shortages as the reason behind reducing the number of beds in Summerside's progressive-care unit from eight to four, saying patients would have to be sent to Charlottetown if those four beds were full.
"As [past] co-chair of the South Shore Health and Wellness Centre, I fought for improved access to health care right here in our district and I know we can accomplish much more with a strong, dedicated voice in the legislature," MacFarlane was quoted as saying in a message on the Green Party's campaign website.
How will the win change the legislature?
MacFarlane's win in District 19 leaves his party tied in the P.E.I. legislature with the Liberals, with three seats each.
The Liberals are currently the Official Opposition, which gives them more debate time in the house and a larger budget for staffing.
Workers at the District 19 byelection polling station in Crapaud said voting was steady all day, with the lineup out the door at times. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)
There is no rule or precedent on record in this province to determine which party should form the Official Opposition when two parties are tied. But other jurisdictions have dealt with this situation, and according to the clerk of the P.E.I. Legislative Assembly, incumbency has been the determining factor in deciding who should form the Official Opposition.
Based on that precedent, the Liberals will maintain their status.
Following his win Thursday, MacFarlane said the party should push for Official Opposition status because the Greens won more votes in the 2023 general election.
"I think that the Green Party should be the Official Opposition," he said. "That was a bridge we weren't really crossing until we'd come to it, and it appears we're at that bridge threshold now."