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ALAN HOLMAN: Don’t Get Bogged Down By The Formula

Given his somewhat precious approach to politics, one almost automatically wants to disagree with Jordon Brown, the minister of justice, even when you might think he’s right.

However, his comment this week on Green Party leader, Peter Bevan-Baker’s call for an investigation into the fact an outside lawyer was used to help draft the Referendum Act appear to be spot on.

There are aspects of the Act that are certainly objectionable. Particularly the part requiring that to be successful the Yes-side must get more than 50 per cent of the votes in 60 per cent of the ridings. But, it’s the requirement that’s the problem, not who drafted it.

Mr. Bevan-Baker is upset that a well-known Liberal, Spencer Campbell, a lawyer with Stewart McKelvey was used by the government to help draft the act. This is not unique, nor unethical. It may well be that there are lawyers in the government quite capable of doing the drafting and they weren’t used. A waste of money, maybe, but governments wasting money is not unethical per se.

Mr. Brown appears to be right when he said, “It's a very baseless allegation.”

But, given that the campaign on the referendum is already underway, Mr. Brown may have reverted to being a tad precious when he questioned the timing of the Green leader’s call for an inquiry, calling it “political.” Given the Greens are one of the two parties that advocate for Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) representation, it is almost certain what Mr. Bevan-Baker did was political. And he likely doesn’t expect the inquiry to happen.

As mentioned earlier, the campaign to change the electoral system to MMP has started, but as the vote on the referendum will be held in conjunction with the election, serious campaigning won’t begin until the date of the election is known.

Given the fact, that the Referendum Act limits both sides of the issue to a budget of $75,000, both are conserving their money and their efforts. And, $75,000 isn’t really a lot of money for province-wide campaign. The Liberal Party alone will likely spend five to ten times as much trying to elect MLAs to the legislature. While the Conservatives won’t be able to match them, they will still spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars to elect Tory MLAs.

To date, the referendum campaign has consisted of distributing pamphlets, placing opinion articles in the newspapers and lots of letters-to-the-editor, either advocating their own position or castigating their opponents.

The No side seems to be the more aggressive, and more negative. Perhaps they recognize that the population’s dissatisfaction with the government could also result in dissatisfaction with the way the MLAs are elected.

The No crowd wants everyone to believe that the system works fine as it is, that there is nothing wrong with a democracy where 41 per cent of the voters elect 66 per cent of the MLAs. Which is what happened four years ago. Or having elections where the results are a legislature with only one or two opposition MLAs which we have seen in the not so distant past.

The No crowd wants everyone to believe that moving to a MMP system is incredibly complicated, that somehow Islanders won’t be able to figure out how to put two Xs on a single ballot.

By moving to a MMP system the elected MLAs will more accurately reflect the votes cast. It would mean that a party couldn’t win 66 per cent of the seats with only 40 per cent of the votes. The No-side says the formula for counting the ballots is too complicated to understand. But, complicated or not, Elections P.E.I. will know how the formula works. As will representatives of the political parties, who’ll have a vested interest making sure the results are accurate.

For a good many years Islanders have put their trust into Elections P.E.I. to run fair and accurate elections. Unless we’re all becoming paranoid, there’s no reason they can’t be trusted to do this in the future.

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: acholman@bellaliant.net.

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