By Sidney MacEwen
In last year’s provincial election, Premier MacLauchlan and all other party leaders promised to explore electoral reform if chosen to form government. On July 9th, 2015 the Special Standing Committee on Democratic Renewal was struck and I was honoured to be named to that committee along with fellow MLA’s Jordan Brown, Paula Biggar, Janice Sherry, and Peter Bevan Baker.
I must praise the committee and support staff for their effort and commitment to getting this process right. It has been a refreshing welcome to public life to be part of a process that puts aside politics in order to achieve a fair process for islanders.
Our committee has met more than 20 times in communities across the Island. We have listened to close to 150 presentations so far from groups and individuals. We have directly engaged high school students and recommended that those 16 and 17 years of age have the right to vote in this plebiscite. We have done all of this in the spirit of collaboration to present the Legislature with a potential plebiscite question on electoral renewal.
Time and again the message we have heard was to take the time to get this process right, giving Islanders a fair chance to have their say. Rightly or wrongly, public perception is that the last plebiscite in 2005 didn’t get a fair chance and that we have a chance to do it right this time.
That is why I was so disappointed that the Premier publicly stated " I'm not a believer in proportional representation . . . we shouldn't be trying to upset the apple cart or to completely change what has been a system that, frankly, has people engaged."
Whether you are for or against change, it was inappropriate and irresponsible for the Premier to make those comments.
Many may wonder why the Premier would set this process in motion if he wasn’t willing to at least entertain the possibility of change to the electoral system? Why publicly say that “Electoral reform affects every Islander, and government is committed to gaining the broadest possible input” and encourage our committee to do just that? Why embark on what will certainly be a very expensive education and voting process if you’re already discounting possible outcomes?
My point is that Islanders are still learning about this electoral renewal process and we shouldn’t be publicly discounting any outcomes before Islanders have their say. Many Islanders hold legitimately differing views on this debate and we don’t want to discourage that expression of democracy.
I’m often asked “Where does the Progressive Conservative Party stand on electoral reform?” I always answer that we have many differing opinions and views on the subject... and we are open to hearing them all. I’m proud to say that as a party we have welcomed this conversation with open arms. At our AGM last fall we had a full morning of discussion with a diverse panel of voices on electoral reform from both inside and outside the party. Electoral reform has been discussed regularly at our monthly PC member council meetings. Our own caucus has debated all aspects of change versus status quo. It’s democratic and it’s healthy.
I encourage everyone to keep an open mind.
A true mark of leadership is trusting people enough to make an informed choice for themselves. I trust Islanders to make that choice. Let’s present them with the facts and empower them by giving them the courtesy of making up their own mind.
- Sidney MacEwen is the MLA for District 7, Morell-Mermaid, and a member of the Special Standing Committee on Democratic Renewal