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A History of Democratic Evolution in Prince Edward Island

According to French thinker Joseph de Maistre, “Every country has the government it deserves.” Perhaps it is more accurate to say that our forms of government are deeply embedded in their communities. Even as a political system is created or transplanted, it begins to interact with the particular – and changing – circumstances of its host society. Such institutions are rooted in history and they become adapted to local context and experience.

De Maistre’s maxim was first published in 1851. That same year, Great Britain reluctantly granted “Responsible Government” to Prince Edward Island, and Reform leader George Coles became our first premier. But making government more “responsible” to the electorate, that is, a system where the executive branch of government is chosen from the party that commands a majority in its elected legislative branch, was neither a culmination nor a beginning. Rather, it was a landmark on a continuum of change. Sometimes change was coloured by short-term political considerations and, increasingly, it confronted the inertia that results when past usage hardens into “tradition.” It has always reflected societal conditions.

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