By Marie Burge and Brenda Oslawsky (guest opinion)
Community-based organizations and individuals are in the process of forming the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation. A reference group has been meeting during the past month to take initiative in calling together the coalition. Proportional Representation (PR) has been getting more attention in the past years including reference to PR in this year’s election campaigns, sometimes couched in the language of “electoral reform.”
The major goal of the new coalition is to engage the wider community in a participatory process of sharing current understandings of PR and learning more about the variety of models, looking at the pros and cons of each. It will provide Islanders with the opportunity to take part in various community forums to develop a strategy for choosing the best model of PR for the province.
A number of people involved in forming the new coalition were actively engaged in the 2005 plebiscite on proportional representation. They generally do not present the results of the plebiscite as a failure for PR. They acknowledge that political parties and the community groups made some mistakes, but in spite of the errors, the value of the in-depth research and community engagement of 2003-2006 cannot be erased. Those promoting the formation of a new Coalition bring to the current process a number of conclusions from the happenings of ten years ago as well as the actions which followed. Some significant learnings are:
- P.E.I. has a history of many deep changes in how elections are held. Islanders have always been open to change which would make politics serve them better.
- Islanders have the capacity to understand and implement any possible PR model. There is no model beyond the ability of the P.E.I. population.
- Social and political change better serve the people if it grows out of the community, rather than being directed top-down.
- At this stage of history, P.E.I. would not be inventing PR models. There are countless examples and variations in different jurisdictions around the
- PR cannot be a political football nor should political parties act in opposition to PR simply because they are comfortable with their lop-sided majorities which often result from the first-past-the-post system or any winner-take-all system.
- PR should give political parties a place in the Legislature according to the percentage of the popular vote. It can be designed also to increase representation of various sectors of the population, otherwise excluded.
- Government must indicate a willingness to enact an appropriate model of proportional representation and provide resources for meaningful community engagement.
- Government, in itself, has the authority to implement proportional representation, not necessarily requiring a referendum.
The initial meeting of the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation will be in mid- September. It will establish the goals of the coalition, develop a common understanding of PR, agree on ways to ensure that the coalition is democratic, and agree on ways of sharing the tasks of engaging the wider community and of accessing needed resources.
Marie Burge, Cooper Institute and Brenda Oslawsky, Fair Vote Canada are members of the PR Reference Group