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Motion urging P.E.I. government to honour electoral reform vote defeated

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says he is disappointed his attempt to urge government to honour the plebiscite was voted down Tuesday.
Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says he is disappointed his attempt to urge government to honour the plebiscite was voted down Tuesday.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - A motion that urged the P.E.I. government to honour the results of the province’s recent plebiscite on electoral reform has been defeated by a majority of MLAs who were elected to the legislature under First-Past-the-Post.

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker tabled the motion, which called on government to immediately take steps to implement Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP), which was the winning choice of five options on the plebiscite ballot in the vote held earlier this month.

But despite support from five Progressive Conservative MLAs, Bevan-Baker’s motion was soundly defeated in a vote Tuesday evening in the legislature by the entire majority Liberal caucus as well as three PC Opposition MLAs: Jamie Fox, Steven Myers and Colin LaVie.

Bevan-Baker was emotional about the result, saying he felt both disappointed and defeated.

“It was a very comprehensive and expensive and draining process and it’s just a shame to see that the only thing we will get from it is that MMP will be one of two – the other one is yet undisclosed – options on future vote,” Bevan-Baker said.

“It’s a sad day for democracy, in my estimation.”

Premier Wade MacLauchlan has tabled his own motion, proposing to hold a second vote on electoral reform, in conjunction with the next provincial election.

He says the 36.5 per cent turnout for the non-binding plebiscite is not enough of a mandate for change.

MacLauchlan’s motion was debated at length earlier in the day Tuesday, with his Liberal caucus members speaking strongly in support of the need for another vote on electoral change.

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker tabled the motion, which called on government to immediately take steps to implement Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP), which was the winning choice of five options on the plebiscite ballot in the vote held earlier this month.

But despite support from five Progressive Conservative MLAs, Bevan-Baker’s motion was soundly defeated in a vote Tuesday evening in the legislature by the entire majority Liberal caucus as well as three PC Opposition MLAs: Jamie Fox, Steven Myers and Colin LaVie.

Bevan-Baker was emotional about the result, saying he felt both disappointed and defeated.

“It was a very comprehensive and expensive and draining process and it’s just a shame to see that the only thing we will get from it is that MMP will be one of two – the other one is yet undisclosed – options on future vote,” Bevan-Baker said.

“It’s a sad day for democracy, in my estimation.”

Premier Wade MacLauchlan has tabled his own motion, proposing to hold a second vote on electoral reform, in conjunction with the next provincial election.

He says the 36.5 per cent turnout for the non-binding plebiscite is not enough of a mandate for change.

MacLauchlan’s motion was debated at length earlier in the day Tuesday, with his Liberal caucus members speaking strongly in support of the need for another vote on electoral change.

Some also took aim at an organized campaign pushing for proportional representation in P.E.I., accusing those involved of trying to bully government into accepting the results of the plebiscite.

“The proportional representation lobby and honour the vote campaign is well-organized with advertisements, robo-calls, social media pressure and even there was a suggestion on Facebook for civil disobedience,” said Liberal backbencher Bush Dumville.

“I will not be brow beat into accepting a plebiscite which is an undefined choice that could have far-reaching negative effects on our province and rural P.E.I.”

MacLauchlan said he recognizes there is a desire for change among many Islanders that must be heeded with due regard.

But this is best done with more time for debate and discussion before a second, binding vote on the issue with a clear question and just two options, one of which will be mixed member proportional representation, he said.

The mood in the chamber Tuesday evening was noticeably tense in the lead up to the vote on Bevan-Baker’s motion. All 27 MLAs sat gravely at their seats, uncharacteristically still and reserved. The public gallery was filled to capacity, and the packed room was as quiet as a church.

When the vote was finished, Bevan-Baker said this is not the end for electoral reform in P.E.I.

But he also said the rest of Canada should be alerted to what has happened in P.E.I., as the Trudeau government now appears to be backing away from its promise to implement proportional representation.

“The big lesson that Canadians should take from our Island experience is – governments will do whatever the hell they want,” Bevan-Baker said.

“You can give them your opinion, you can voice your collective choice and they can summarily ignore it… Look out Canadians, you may think that you’re being included in this conversation, but I’m not so sure you are."

Teresa.wright@tc.tc

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

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