The provincial NDP is hoping discussions around this fall’s electoral reform plebiscite will help strengthen the party with a possible influx of youth.
While the party has been a longtime proponent for electoral reform, provincial leader Mike Redmond said the lead-up to a plebiscite this November also presents an opportunity to connect with Island youth.
Islanders as young as 16-years-old will possibly be able to vote ito change P.E.I.’s electoral system.
“It’s a huge opportunity for political parties left-of-centre to swing those voters our way. Many of the kids in high school now are very well-educated on proportional representation,” Redmond said during the party’s annual convention in Summerside Saturday. “I’d be surprised if 75 per cent or at least half of them don’t go go for some type of PR system. They realize their vote needs to count and this is a way of doing that.”
A special committee on electoral democracy has proposed a plebiscite be held in November 2016 and that it allow Islanders 16-years-old and up to vote on five options for an electoral system, including remaining with the status quo first-past-the-post system.
The NDP passed a resolution Saturday to educate Islanders on the “mixed member” and “dual member” proportional representational system options they’ll also see on that ballot.
With a proportional representational system, the NDP would have had three sitting MLAs following last year’s provincial election.
The party said a “first-past-the-post plus” option largely represented the current system.
it also dismissed the other option, preferential voting, as “merely a system of ballot calculation, and in itself not an electoral system, nor is it offering any departure from first-past-the-post.”
“Personally, I’m fearful of preferential voting being confused for proportional representation. What’s currently offered (in P.E.I.) is first-past-the-post with a preferential ballot,” said party president Nathan Bushey. “Hopefully, people aren’t confused into thinking it’s something new.”
To combat possible confusion, the resolution included a commitment for party members to campaign with the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation.
“We see that as a huge opportunity and the candidates who ran in the last provincial election will be going to talk to people door-to-door on proportional representation and poverty issues,” said Redmond. “We want to hear from Islanders on ways to find solutions.”
Bushey said he believes those personal interactions will help grow the party, after hearing evidence from youth participating in the party’s national convention in Edmonton a month ago.
“One common thread was that it was individual people who really opened up their eyes and gave them an option… What I’ve identified is community activism, just being out in the community talking,” said Bushey. “When someone is starving for oxygen and they’re given a breath, they’re thankful for that. And whenever they hear their own thoughts and ideas coming from a soon-to-be elected official, it’s very powerful.”
Thomas Burleigh, 17, may be the first of that trend amongst youth the party is hoping for.
After becoming an NDP member three months ago, the Westisle student was one of the more than 40 who attended Saturday’s convention.
Burleigh said many of his peers also identify with the party’s progressive stance towards social issues.
“They’re taking stances on issues that appeal to people in my generation. I find they’re very progressive on them,” said Burleigh, who also pointed to the grassroots aspects of the NDP as being another deciding factor in joining the party.
Another resolution passed on Saturday included calling on the provincial government to lobby the federal government to end permits tying migrant workers to specific employers and to transition them towards permanent immigration status.
Other resolutions included offering more education in Island schools on the history of minority groups in Canada, as well as a call for the province to provide public input on the possible amalgamation of several communities surrounding Montague.