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BRENDA OSLAWSKY: PR would help engage Islanders

Graphic outlines how proportional representation would work.
Graphic outlines how proportional representation would work. - Submitted

Coalition governments bring greater transparency, stability, oversight and due diligence

We are approaching the one year anniversary of the proportional representation (PR) win in the provincial plebiscite (Nov. 7, 2016) and now might be a good time to consider how things would have been different under Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

MMP would have ensured that the seat allocation for each party would have better reflected the popular vote. The Liberals with 41 per cent of the vote would have received 11 seats, while the PCs with 37 per cent of the popular vote would have received 10 seats. Both the NDP and the Greens would have received three seats each as they both received around 11 per cent of votes.

The Liberal party would have had to form a coalition with one of the other parties to pass legislation. While they likely would have joined with the Greens or the NDP to get the required 14 votes, they could have also joined with the PCs to form a 21 seat ‘super majority,’ leaving the NDPs and Greens to form a six seat opposition, healthier than many in recent years.

Alternatively, if the Liberals were unable to come to an agreement or were unwilling to cooperate with one of the other parties, the three opposition parties could have joined forces to govern. Just such a thing happened in New Zealand in recent weeks. The National Party was unable to find common ground with other parties to gain enough support, so the second place Labour party joined with New Zealand First and the Greens to govern.

How would coalition or consensus-style governance have differed from what we have now? All-party committees would draft not just reports but also the legislation presented in the legislature.

Currently, without having to get support from any other party to pass legislation, reports from committees merely inform, or not, a select few individuals who draft legislation in the premier’s office. Imagine how this systemic change would have affected the whole process around the English school board consultations.

Coalition partners could insist on due diligence in public tenders, access to public information and/or sign off from all coalition members on major public spending, as conditions of their support. The important thing is that no party governs un-chaperoned.

Having to form coalitions with other parties prevent extremist parties from running government on their own. While the second place Republican Party assumed total control in the U.S, in Denmark the third-place centre-right party is heading a coalition government as other parties would not support a government led by either the first-place, centre-left party or the second place anti-immigrant party.

In Sweden, the two large centre-left and centre-right parties formed a ‘super majority’ as there was resistance to forming a coalition with the far right party.

And these coalitions last, as both Sweden and the Netherlands have elections less often than we do in Canada.

While some might worry about an explosion of parties under PR, we know those fears are unfounded. In 2015, Canada (with a population of 36 million) elected MPs from five parties while Germany (with a population of 82 million), which uses MMP, elected candidates from 7 parties.

It has been almost two and a half years since the premier, in his first throne speech, promised to engage Islanders in decisions, increase openness and transparency and to hold government accountable. Now it is time to think about how a proportional system would help a government achieve those ideals while ensuring that every vote counts and decisions lie with a ‘true’ majority of the voters.

- Brenda Oslawsky is a member of the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation, representing Fair Vote P.E.I., the local chapter of national organization, Fair Vote Canada, where she also sits on the executive.

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