Sidney MacEwen calls out Wade MacLauchlan on electoral reform

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Sidney MacEwen

It was a surprising public rebuke of Prince Edward Island’s premier. It’s not often that Wade MacLauchlan is called out for making comments on issues of public policy.

Sidney MacEwen, the rookie MLA for Morell-Mermaid, wrote a commentary in The Guardian last Saturday that accomplished two results — to explain the Progressive Conservative party’s position on electoral reform, and to comment on the premier’s views on that same topic.

Premier MacLauchlan has criticized the proportional representation option for electoral reform. He suggested the electorate is already engaged and there is no need to upset the apple cart. Not only did the premier raise concerns about the PR option in particular, but also called into question electoral reform in general.

The comments came after the government released a white paper on the topic last July and set up a special committee of the legislature to hold meetings across P.E.I., engage Islanders and offer a plebiscite question.

What gives the commentary even more weight is that Mr. MacEwen is a respected member of that Special Standing Committee on Democratic Renewal. He has come across as a voice of reason and sound argument during those hearings. Thus, the attack was also from an unexpected source.

On many issues of public debate, Premier MacLauchlan has usually kept his opinions to himself, feeling it would be inappropriate to make them public. His views do matter to many Islanders. He has declined to offer an opinion on other controversial matters, such as abortion or the MLAs special expense fund.

The premier should have held his counsel on electoral reform. Why set the wheels in motion if he believes the process is unnecessary? It caused a lot of consternation, angering a committee formed to support proportional representation.

In his commentary, Mr. MacEwen welcomed the non-partisan nature of the committee which went into the process without favour or prejudice, to engage Islanders and present the legislature with a plebiscite question.

He expressed his disappointment that the premier publicly stated he is not a believer in proportional representation. “Whether you are for or against change, it was inappropriate and irresponsible for the Premier to make those comments.” Ouch.

As for the PC Party, it doesn’t have a firm position because elements in the party have differing opinions. The party is open to hearing them all. The debate within the party continues and is being shaped by public comments being heard across the Island. At least the party has an open mind on the process.

A dual member, mixed proportional option is being viewed as the possible best solution to the electoral reform debate. The proposal, developed by University of Alberta graduate Sean Graham, was discussed in detail in another Guardian commentary in recent days. It is one of the final options being proposed. Mr. Graham, who holds two degrees from the university, developed the proposal through a grant at UofA.

It might sound a little confusing at first but deserves a second read by Islanders because it addresses the problems with the current single member, first-past-the-post system, while avoiding major changes to how we vote now.

Mr. Graham’s plan retains local representation, achieves proportionality, and, from the voter’s perspective, looks nearly identical to our present system. It works by creating two-member districts where the first candidate is elected by plurality (candidate with the most votes wins) and a process that produces a provincewide proportionality to elect the second candidate.

The option needs to be thoroughly discussed and understood. It might offer the perfect compromise for leery Islanders happy with the status quo and one that might even find favour with Premier MacLauchlan.

The commentary last week puts Mr. MacEwen squarely into the public spotlight. His criticism of the premier — though deserved — might also have been an early probe to test public waters on possible leadership intentions.

Mr. MacEwen is increasingly being mentioned as a possible leadership contender for the PC Party of P.E.I. He hasn’t expressed those plans publicly but others are making them for him.

When former deputy prime minister Peter MacKay was in St. Peters recently, he was introduced by Mr. MacEwen. Area MLA Steven Myers said that it was a nice touch to have the future leader of the Conservative Party of Canada being introduced by the future leader of the PC Party of P.E.I.

Organizations: Special Standing Committee on Democratic Renewal, University of Alberta, PC Party of P.E.I. Conservative Party of Canada

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island

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