Affable Green leader sets sight on potential P.E.I. election victory
CHARLOTTETOWN -- An affable dentist with a distinct Scottish accent, Peter Bevan-Baker ran nine times for the Green party --federally and provincially -- before finally winning a seat in the P.E.I. legislature in 2015.
The leader of the Island's Green party, Bevan-Baker could become leader of Canada's first Green government after Island voters cast their ballots in Tuesday's provincial election race.
Successive polls have shown Bevan-Baker is well-liked in this tiny island province, and his party is well positioned to improve upon the two seats they held in the legislature prior to last month's election call.
"He's a very likable person and he's very popular," said Don Desserud, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island.
"He has support way beyond the party. People are supporting him regardless of what party they are voting for."
Bevan-Baker grew up in Scotland and, as a young boy, was a member of the Cubs and later the Sea Scouts.
He said that experience instilled a sense of order and responsibility in him.
He immigrated to Canada in 1985, living in Newfoundland and then Ontario before settling in Prince Edward Island in 2003. He became a Canadian citizen in 1992.
Bevan-Baker and his wife have four children. On the Island, he operated a dental clinic, cafe and community hall in Hampton, P.E.I.
He became the first Green member of the P.E.I. legislature in 2015.
Desserud said Bevan-Baker has politics in his blood.
"He's also a descendant of George Brown, the original publisher of the Globe and leader of the responsible government movement in Ontario in the 19th Century. So he has very solid Canadian political credentials," he said.
However, Desserud also said Bevan-Baker is an unlikely politician who does politics differently.
"He's very reluctant to criticize. He does when he thinks it is necessary ... but he tends to try to promote much more of a positive message than a negative one."
That positive message seems to have set the tone for the campaign, which was a rather polite affair.
The Green party released its entire $30-million platform at the beginning of the campaign, with a third of its planned spending -- $10-million -- aimed at increasing social assistance rates. Increasing the inventory of affordable housing was also a top priority.
The campaign took on a sombre tone in the final days with the tragic death of Green candidate Josh Underhay. He and his young son died in a canoeing accident Friday afternoon.
The Greens, who have led recent opinion polls, cancelled all campaigning on the weekend, and Bevan-Baker issued a statement Sunday confirming the party had cancelled all events for Monday.
Bevan-Baker said he was struck by the unconditional support he has received from other politicians and from concerned citizens from across Canada.
The Green leader also noted that his campaign rivals also stopped campaigning on the weekend.
Elections P.E.I. has cancelled the vote in Underhay's district, saying a byelection will be held within the next three months.
"The past two days have been among the most difficult of my political life, torn between my private grief at the death of candidate and friend, Josh Underhay, and my obligations as Green party leader," Bevan-Baker said in his statement.
He declined interviews Monday, out of respect for Underhay, but in an earlier interview with The Canadian Press, said he was prepared for a possible win.
"That possibility is there. Emotionally, politically and intellectually, I feel like I'm ready for that challenge, in a way that I wasn't perhaps a year ago," he said.
"If you vote Green you're going to be voting for something different and something new. I think Islanders are ready for change."
The standings at dissolution in the Island legislature were 16 Liberals, eight Tories, two Green and one Independent.
Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan has described Bevan-Baker as a career politician from off the island, but Dessurud said the label didn't stick.
"It doesn't seem to have worked. If anything, because of his social activities. He plays in a jazz group, he's well known at charity events. He's seen as an established member of the Island community and I have no sense people see him as an outsider at all," Desserud said.