Premier's comments upset election reform group

“I’m not a believer in proportional representation," MacLauchlan says

Nigel Armstrong NArmstrong@TheGuardian.pe.ca
Published on February 4, 2016

A meeting in Charlottetown Wednesday night was held to discuss proportional representation and was sponsored by the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation. From left are Chris Sallie, Jordan MacPhee, representing ECOPEI and Florence Larkin. 

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Comments made by Premier Wade MacLauchlan during end-of-year interviews with the media don't sit well with people wanting election reform on P.E.I.

The P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation held a meeting Wednesday in Charlottetown and MacLauchlan's comments were the first order of business.

Proportional representation is a system of running elections to ensure the Legislature has the same party structure as the popular vote.

If the Island had such a system during the last election in May 2015, there would be two or three MLAs in the Legislature right now from both the NDP and Green parties, says the coalition.

The meeting heard that MacLauchlan told one media outlet “I’m not a believer in proportional representation.”

During a year-end interview with The Guardian's Teresa Wright this past December, he said of electoral reform that "Islanders are not fully engaged in this whole question right now."

"I'm of two minds about it," said Marie Burge, co-ordinator of Wednesday's meeting.  "Sometimes statements like that could be ignored."

The meeting of 35 people broke into five groups to  discuss what to do about MacLauchlan's comments.

Four of the groups said he should be called to task for influencing public opinion on the issue, but one group suggested moving on without comment.

"In our group we had some concerns that it may be too late to respond," said group reporter Josie Baker. "At this point we can be preparing for future remarks that he might make.

"What we really need is a concerted education campaign to ensure that people understand (proportional representation) and want to go for it," said Baker.

"The premier shouldn't be anywhere near the process," said group reporter Jordan MacPhee.

Next, the groups looked at issues surrounding a question about election reform that will be put to Islanders as a  plebiscite some time later this year.

A committee formed by government said in a report to the Legislature last November that the plebiscite question should be in two parts, with the first asking Islanders if they want change, and the second part giving four  alternative election models.

Group reporter Karalee McAskill said the design of the plebiscite question should include ranking scales, like "rate your satisfaction on a scale from one to five,"  rather than yes or no answers.

Other groups said the options for new election models should be also be ranked, from one to four, rather than having Islanders choose just one.

"We need to get information out and have people come together in their own communities and talk about the issue (of proportional representation)," said Burge.

She said a subcommittee of the coalition meets regularly to plan education events and strategies so Islanders should expect to hear more on the topic through 2016.