EDITORIAL: We endorse DMP option in plebiscite

DMP will be a first in the world. For a jurisdiction as unique as the Island why shouldn’t we have an electoral system that is as unique as our province?

Published on October 29, 2016

Graphic outlines P.E.I. legislature if DMP was applied after last election.

©File graphic

Today, Islanders begin a historic process that could change P.E.I.’s electoral system. Over the next 10 days, every resident 16 years of age and older - more than 100,000 of us - can play a role in strengthening our most important democratic institution.

The plebiscite offers an opportunity to create a better and more responsive government. Democratic renewal is about making government more reflective of voters’ wishes . . . that every vote does count. It continues an historical progression of reform in the composition of P.E.I.’s Legislative Assembly.

We fully endorse this process.

We asked ourselves two questions. Is there a better system than the present winner takes all? If so, what is the best option?

To the first question, we answer a resounding yes! Distorted majorities support the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Recent majority governments, won largely by minority support, have led to excesses of power and abuses of taxpayers’ money.

Our editorial board has carefully considered the five options on the ballot and we made a choice. We are overwhelmingly supporting proportional representation as the best method to achieve democratic renewal. And in this plebiscite, we support Dual Member Proportional (DMP).

The rationale of DMP has been widely reported. Those arguments have earned our support. It is a simple ballot; every MLA is tied to an electoral district; it involves dual ridings, which many Islanders are familiar with since we only abandoned two-member ridings in 1996; and it introduces proportionality to allow for more diversity in the legislature.

We urge Islanders to take a few moments and read about DMP. Once you become familiar with this option, it will make perfect sense. It’s why we endorsed DMP.

It blends the principles of First-Past-the-Post with proportionality. The province will be divided into 14, two-member ridings instead of 27 single member districts. Before 1996, P.E.I. was divided into 16, two-member ridings. It isn’t a big change.

From the voter’s perspective, DMP looks nearly identical to the current single member plurality system. It respects the principles of provincial and local accountability and supports rural areas, small parties or independent candidates.

DMP avoids the criticism that PR creates two triers of MLAs, which would make them less accountable. The number of people in each district who are represented by a party they support would significantly increase. Vote counting procedures and party nomination processes would not require significant changes.

DMP would make strategic voting unnecessary and make gerrymandering almost an impossibility. DMP would allow everyone’s vote to count without having to get used to a much different electoral system.

Voters will still mark just one ‘X’ on the ballot. This vote would be for the candidate and the party simultaneously. The first half of the seats is assigned using First-Past-the-Post. The second half are assigned based on the Island-wide popular vote – using a simple mathematical equation. It’s all very simple when you think about it.

And DMP will be a first in the world. For a jurisdiction as unique as the Island why shouldn’t we have an electoral system that is as unique as our province?

We need strong governments but we don't need distorted majorities to achieve that. We need politicians and parties who place the good of the province and their fellow citizens as their first priority. By working together in minority governments or coalitions, we can provide effective, strong and moral governance.

The plebiscite should answer one question: What option provides the best result for the voter? It should not be politicians, political parties or any group that stand to benefit - it must be the average Islander and taxpayer who gain the most in this process.

Islanders need to be assured that if a new electoral system fails to meet its objectives, a sunset clause could allow for changes after several elections, just like we do for electoral boundaries.

There are various voting options for Islanders to consider.

Elections P.E.I. has set up Internet and telephone voting starting today and continuing until the polls close at 7 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 7. There are also two days of regular, in-person voting at scores of polling stations across the province.

Based on the almost unprecedented numbers of letters and opinion articles that this newspaper received on this subject, and the turnouts at meetings and debates, we are convinced that Islanders are fully engaged in this process. We are convinced they want change and are ready to again set a new course for this province and the country.

We hope the May 2015 provincial election was the last one conducted under the First-Past-the-Post voting system. We believe Islanders are ready to make history once again and select an option that will elect governments for all the people.

The nation is watching.