P.E.I. electoral reform plebiscite question to be tabled next week

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on November 24, 2015

Sidney MacEwen, MLA, chats with Chelsey Gunn and Courtney Gunn, Charlottetown Rural students before an electoral reform committee heard from students at Charlottetown Rural High School on Nov. 23, 2015.

©Heather Taweel/The Guardian

A draft plebiscite question for voters on possible changes to the way P.E.I. elects its next government is expected in a report to be tabled in the legislature next week.

Exactly what that question will be has not yet been determined, but members of the province’s special committee on democratic renewal will be mulling it over during the next few days.

“I think we will be in a position to form at least one plebiscite question, and we may have more possible examples that we may put forward for debate in the legislature,” said committee chairman, Charlottetown-Brighton MLA Jordan Brown.

The committee of MLAs - Liberals, Progressive Conservative and Green has travelled the Island from tip-to-tip gathering as much input as possible before it must submit its recommendations on electoral reform to the P.E.I. legislature.

But getting Islanders engaged in the topic of electoral reform has proved somewhat challenging.

Some of the committee’s early meetings had only a handful of participants.

Later meetings in Charlottetown and Stratford did draw bigger crowds.

But Brown admits the total participation of 400-500 Islanders represents only a fraction of P.E.I. voters.

The majority of those who made presentations expressed support for change, but the examples people supported were wide-ranging in scope and subject.

For example, many individuals and groups said they support the idea of proportional representation.

But there were multiple types of models and iterations of proportional representation put forward as the preferred voting system.

High school students at Charlottetown Rural expressed support Monday for a mixed member proportional system, but each student had different ideas of exactly how this would look.

They also called for the voting age to be lowered to 16.

Meanwhile, some presentations focused on areas such as election financing while others took issue with suggestions contained within the province’s white paper on democratic renewal, released last spring as a way to start the discussion on electoral reform.

A number of Islanders raised concern about the process itself being too rushed.

“This entire process of collecting this information on democratic representation appears to me much too rushed, much too sudden, much too fast. We just went through an election,” Summerside resident Karl Hengst told the committee when it met in Abram Village in October.

Ann Wheatley from the Cooper Institute echoed this sentiment in her remarks in Charlottetown in early November, saying she feels changing the Island’s electoral system is far too important an issue for decisions to be made in haste or without ample opportunity for Islanders to provide input.

“We understand that Islanders are not generally shy about politics, but this discussion may leave people out, for example, if they feel decisions have already been made or if they feel too rushed or lacking in opportunities to engage in conversations with their friends and neighbours about this.”

Brown acknowledges the concerns about the timeline, especially given the fact a plebiscite on electoral reform in P.E.I. could come as early as the spring.

But he says discussions and commissions on moving P.E.I. into a new electoral system have been ongoing dating back the early 1990s.

“It’s not a new subject,” he said.

“There still might be people who will say the process is too rushed, and the question really is then, what is a good time frame? And we will chew on that and we will consider whether the process was too rushed.”

The committee report will likely offer an opinion on this as well as several draft plebiscite questions.

It will then be up to the full legislative assembly to decide how to proceed.

The committee hopes to table its report by Nov. 30.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa