BY ALAN HOLMAN
And so it begins. Everyone knew it would happen sooner or later. That it was a Conservative MLA who began the campaign to discredit anyone or any group that favours or promotes proportional representation (PR) shouldn’t come as any great surprise given the Tories’ standing in the polls.
Media reports say that Darlene Compton raised the issue in the legislature, first by complaining that in the recent byelection, Green Party campaigners knew that some voters favoured PR and used this as part of their campaign banter in the campaign.
So, what else is new? How many doors of known Conservative supporters did the Tories knock on? Does anyone think the voters weren’t urged to continue supporting the party?
Why does Mrs. Compton feel there is something sinister about the Green Party, which supports PR and is a member of the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation, using PR as part of its electioneering? What is she more afraid of - the Greens or PR?
It would appear she is afraid of both. She also calls the coalition a front for the Green Party and they use it as a fundraising operation for the party. She wants the government to put a stop to this. Unfortunately for Mrs. Compton, and the government, which seemingly shares her concerns, neither the Greens or the coalition have done anything wrong.
While admitting that some people are supporters of both organizations, they both deny there is any collusion between them.
As a party, the Tories are well behind both the Liberals and the Greens in recent polling. Mrs. Compton’s line of questioning seems to indicate that the Tories are worried that this is not some aberration, but possibly a shift in the nature of Island politics.
In spite of Conservative leader James Aylward’s belief that the electoral system needs to be reformed, there’s been no indication either he, or the Conservative Party support PR.
It’s expected the legislature will soon debate the wording of the referendum to choose between some form of PR and presumably the existing First-Past-the-Post system, though the premier never explicitly said this would be the second option.
If, and when, that debate occurs, hopefully, the wording will clarify just what form of PR is being proposed.
Even people who support PR have concerns about the names that will be chosen based on the percentage of the popular vote each party receives.
How will each party select the names it puts on their list? Will there be a vote of the membership, or will the names simply be selected by the leader?
Also, once the list is placed on the ballot, who determines which of the party names get to sit in the legislature. Will the party rank its order of preference? Or will the voting public get to influence the selection? This could be done by each voter ranking the names submitted.
Another concern about PR is that it will be difficult to form majority governments. This is true in the traditional sense, but, the likely outcome following an PR election is that the party with the most seats would form a coalition with one of the lesser parties.
Coalitions, unlike minority governments, usually involve granting a cabinet position or positions, to the minority party, ensuring that they are a part of the government, not merely tacit supporters of that government. For many this is preferable to the present system where the premier rules with almost dictatorial power for four or five years.
The biggest challenge the proponents of PR face is making sure the referendum question is as clear and understandable as possible. After the last plebiscite, there were many who said they didn’t bother to vote, claiming they didn’t understand the proposed changes.
Running the referendum in conjunction with the election may save money, but adds to the confusion. Maybe it was supposed to.
- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: email@example.com