Messy may be an apt word to describe the way Premier Wade MacLauchlan and his federal counterpart, Justin Trudeau, have so far handled electoral reform.
his year-end review with The Guardian, the Island premier said renewal on a
number of issues including democratic renewal was a big challenge in 2016 and
that, sometimes, it can be “messy.”
consulting with Islanders across the province last spring, an all-party
committee of MLAs recommended a plebiscite with five options on the ballot.
That vote went ahead in November and more than 50 per cent of Islanders who
turned out voted to scrap first past the post, a system that gives the
candidate with the most votes in each riding the seat and frequently lead to
lopsided governments. They voted to replace it with Mixed Member Proportional, a
hybrid system that would ensure the number of seats each party gets would be
equal to that party’s share of the popular vote.
that point, the process was straightforward and hardly messy. But the
government’s response certainly was.
questioned if it was actually a clear majority and cited the low voter turnout (36.5
per cent) as reasons the result was “debatable.” The plebiscite became a
springboard to a full-fledged referendum in conjunction with the 2019 election
rather than a vote for immediate change. The choice will be between MMP and a
second option as yet to be determined. So even if MMP is the preferred choice,
Islanders won’t be able to vote under the new system until at least 2023.
the prospect of first past the post being retired anytime soon seems even more
remote. When the Liberals were mired in Third Party status before the last
federal election Justin Trudeau promised, if elected, that 2015 would be the
last election using first past the post. It was clear, unambiguous and repeated
more than once during the 2015 campaign.
rewarded Trudeau with a majority government but barely a year into his first
mandate, he told a Quebec newspaper the urgency for that kind of change had
passed. He reasoned, incredibly, that people unhappy with former Prime Minister
Stephen Harper wanted electoral reform to get rid of him. But that same system
gave them a government they are more satisfied with (his) “and the motivation
to want to change the electoral system is less compelling,” the PM said.
afterwards, Trudeau’s minister in charge of Democratic Renewal, Maryam Monsef, panned
the report of an all-party committee on electoral reform after it recommended a
new proportional voting system along with a national referendum to gauge public
support for it. Trudeau seems to be putting more stock in a minority report
from Liberal members of the committee who said it would be “irresponsible” to
go ahead with a referendum before the next election.
while Islanders settle for another vote on electoral reform in three years time,
it’s becoming clear that voters at the federal level likely won’t even get that
2016 draws to a close, many who dared hope for a swift change in the way they
elect their politicians are deeply disappointed.
the can has been kicked down the road for at least seven years and federally, it
seems the can is being punted right out of the park.
- Wayne Young is an instructor in the
journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.