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Second vote on electoral reform needed, says premier Wade MacLauchlan

FILE PHOTO: Premier Wade MacLauchlan in the legislature earlier this session.
FILE PHOTO: Premier Wade MacLauchlan in the legislature earlier this session.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - It looks like it’s back to the drawing board for electoral reform in Prince Edward Island.

Despite a clear victory for Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) in the plebiscite on electoral reform held in P.E.I. earlier this month, Premier Wade MacLauchlan said Friday his Liberal majority caucus will endorse his motion to hold a second vote to decide whether to change P.E.I.’s electoral system.

This one will be a binding referendum, conducted in conjunction with the 2019 provincial election. It will have just two options, including Mixed Member Proportional Representation.

MacLauchlan said the voter turnout of 36.5 per cent for the plebiscite delivered an “imperfect” result.

“When we, as legislators, called this plebiscite voter turnout was a central preoccupation, I might even say a paramount consideration,” MacLauchlan said Friday in the house.

He added that all MLAs were hearing from Islanders who noted the vote was non-binding and that no one knew what government would do with the results.

But he rejected his own culpability in how this may have affected low turnout, despite the fact he refused to offer any threshold for change nor would he answer reporters’ questions about what he planned to do with the results in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Instead, he blamed the plebiscite’s use of a ranked ballot.

“I think people did have issues or perhaps weren’t quite familiar with the preferential ballot system, but nonetheless that has served its purpose of sorting, or giving a kind of indication in order, or sequence, of what preferences people have. And that all moves us through to a stage where we’ll be committed, provided this motion passes, to having a binding referendum.”

The motion is sure to pass because MacLauchlan said his Liberal MLAs are “united” on the idea of a second vote.

The premier and his Liberal MLAs were also harshly critical of Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker for comments he made in the media earlier this week, where he raised concern about how his own motion, which called for government to implement the plebiscite results, was blocked from moving forward by Liberal MLAs Tina Mundy and Jordan Brown, who ran up the clock with their lengthy responses Tuesday evening.

On Friday, MacLauchlan called Bevan-Baker’s comments “intemperate and bad mannered.”

Other Liberal MLAs also took shots at Bevan-Baker Friday and even at the plebiscite.

Richard Brown accused Bevan-Baker of being the one who was “cowardly” and Pat Murphy said he felt the ranked ballot used in the plebiscite allowed for “manipulation” of the results.

Bevan-Baker says he stands by his statements.

“We’re looking at seven years before the will of Islanders, as expressed two weeks ago, actually comes to pass and to me; that’s being evasive and that’s cowardice in my mind.”

MacLauchlan rejected the notion the plebiscite result was not being honoured.

The way it is being honoured, he said, is by putting Mixed Member Proportional Representation as one of two choices on the referendum ballot.

The second option will be determined by MLAs in the legislature, MacLauchlan said, admitting the current First-Past-the-Post system “may well be” the second choice.

“Now, all 100,000 Prince Edward Island voters are going to have an opportunity to express their opinion in a binding way,” MacLauchlan said.

Bevan-Baker says holding a second vote is a total disrespect of the 37,000 Islanders who voted in the plebiscite.

 “Islanders have spent, through our tax dollars, probably close to $1 million on this plebiscite not to mention the hundreds of thousands of hours that many people have put forward in making it a substantive debate,” Bevan-Baker said.

“Really what the premier is saying is, all of that effort, all of that time, all of that money, the only thing we’re going to take from that is – we’re going to have another vote. ”

Teresa.wright@tc.tc

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

 

 

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