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ALAN HOLMAN: Riddled with unfairness

Elections P.E.I. ballot box
Elections P.E.I. ballot box - Elections P.E.I.

People who don’t vote credited with no vote simply by not marking their ballot

BY ALAN HOLMAN

GUARDIAN COLUMNIST

It’s a question of fairness.

While the MacLauchlan government deserves some credit for changing the Island’s election financing rules, it falls short on the rules for the up-coming referendum.

The changes to the Election Financing Act will prohibit corporations and unions from giving money to political parties or candidates. However, individual Islanders can give up to $3,000 a year to the political party, or candidate of their choice.

This will be a major change for political fund raisers in the province.

In 2016, the Liberal Party publicly raised $321,000, but, only about a third of it came from individuals, the rest came from business interests. The Tories raised $150,000, and again, about a third of that money was from individuals.

In 2016, the NDP raised just under $15,000, and of that money only a third, $5,000 came from unions, and the Green Party raised $9,500, all from individuals.

In 2015, the Liberals spent just shy of $920,000 to elect 18 MLAs, the Tories spent almost $560,000 and elected eight, the Greens spent just over $26,000 and elected one, while the NDP spent close to $68,000 and didn’t elect anyone.

But for the anomaly of the Greens, looking at those numbers it would seem that money plays a part in running a successful province-wide campaign.

Which brings us to the Electoral System Referendum Act which could change the Island’s voting system to one of proportional representation.

Among both traditional parties there are supporters who favour changing the system. However, most of the Liberal and Conservative hierarchy want the system to stay just the way it is. It’s worked well for them.

And, when there were only two parties, the system did work. But, not now with four contending parties, it doesn’t work democratically. As was recently written in Toronto’s Globe, ‘today we get majority governments elected by a minority of citizens.’ Which was what happened on the Island in the last election; the Liberals won 66 per cent of the seats with only 40 per cent of the popular vote. This is perceived by many as unfair.

There are aspects of the Referendum Act that are also unfair.

Start with the money. It took the Liberals nearly $1,000,000 and the Tories half that amount to run their province-wide campaigns in the last election. Yet, the Liberals have decreed that the province-wide referendum campaigns must be conducted for $75,000, less than 10 per cent of what they spent on their last campaign. The bill also prohibits anyone from raising or using any money other than $75,000 the government will provide.

In 2016 the government wouldn’t recognize the results of the plebiscite, claiming there wasn’t a sufficient turnout. But, turnout wasn’t an issue until after the ballots were counted. This gave an anti-change vote to people who didn’t even cast a ballot.

A similar rule is being used in the up-coming referendum. For proportional representation to be successful it has to get votes from over 50 per cent of the registered voters, not just over 50 per cent of the ballots cast. Once again, people who don’t vote will be credited with a no vote simply by not marking the ballot.

Using this criteria in the 2015 election, the Liberals would have needed 50,000 votes to form the government. They only got 33,478. Two-thirds of eligible Island voters didn’t want Wade MacLauchlan to be premier.

What’s sauce for the goose, should be sauce for the gander.

- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: acholman@pei.eastlink.ca

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