© THE GUARDIAN/Teresa Wright
Residents of Morell-St. Peters participate in a discussion on electoral reform with Summerside-Wilmot MLA Janice Sherry, centre, one of the members on the special committee on democratic renewal. Only a handful of people turned out to the recent meeting to give their input and hear what the committee members had to say. More meetings on this topic are scheduled in the next 10 days.
Hardly anyone attending Special Committee on Democratic Renewal's second round of consultations
While the rest of Canada appears to be chomping at the bit for a referendum on electoral reform federally, an upcoming plebiscite in Prince Edward Islanders is all but being ignored.
P.E.I.'s Special Committee on Democratic Renewal has begun its second round of consultations - this time looking for input on a plebiscite question.
The options for the possible changes the Island could see to its voting system have been narrowed to four after an opening round of 11 public meetings were held in the fall.
The options are:
- Keeping the current first-past-the-post voting system with the addition of seats for party leaders whose parties attain a certain percentage of the popular vote in an election;
- Keeping the current first-past-the-post voting system, but using a preferential ballot;
- Going to a mixed-member proportional representation voting system;
- Changing to dual member mixed proportional representation voting.
A new round of public consultations is now underway to try to explain these different options and generate discussion and debate among the public.
Getting Islanders interested enough to attend to these meetings or to share their thoughts on electoral reform has proven a challenge.
A meeting last week in Morell drew only nine members of the public.
MLAs on the tri-partisan committee travelling across the Island for these meetings are almost desperate in their pleas to get the word out about what they are trying to accomplish.
After all, a plebiscite on changing P.E.I.'s voting system is scheduled to go ahead in the fall of this year.
"It's tough, I'm not going to lie," says Charlottetown MLA Jordan Brown, chairman of the special committee on democratic renewal.
"Islanders have a tendency to sit back and take it all in and then when it comes time to make a decision they all rush out to educate themselves and base their decision on that."
In Ottawa, debate has been brewing over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision not to hold a vote on electoral reform while vowing that Canadians will not go to the polls in the next federal election under the current first-past-the-post system.
A national poll released earlier this month by the firm Insights West found a majority of Canadians - 65 per cent - believe a referendum should be held before any changes are made to the federal voting system.
Meanwhile, P.E.I. will hold a vote on this same issue in the fall. Islanders do have an opportunity to voice their opinions on what options should be included on that ballot. MLAs on the committee working on this issue are begging Islanders to get involved. But so far only a few hundred Islanders have bothered to take part in the extensive public consultations that have taken place to date. The current round of public meetings is attempting to generate more casual discussion, with chairs set up in a circle and some of MLAs even dressing more informally.
During the meeting last week, the handful of Morell and St. Peters residents who did attend warned against changing a voting system they say has stood the province in good stead over the course of P.E.I.'s history.
"I might be traditional, but when something has put us where we are as a society, we want to be very, very careful when we start tampering it that we end up better, not worse, at the end of the day," said Jim MacAulay.
Ronnie MacInnis challenged Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker to explain whether his constituents "wasted their vote" by voting in the only member of a third party in the provincial election last spring.
Despite this, Brown says getting Islanders to considering an alternative to their traditional voting system is possible, but getting people engaged in the conversation is key.
"It's just all about education and it's all about people having the confidence that if a change is made, it's not going to be something that's going to totally sink the democracy that we know," Brown said. "It's not necessarily that everyone will want change, but at least if they can open their mind and consider it, that's I think what we're shooting for."