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When driving to work recently I was suddenly struck by the lyrics of a well know Joni Mitchell song that we’ve all heard many, many times since its original release in 1970. The song, Big Yellow Taxi, repeats a familiar refrain of “Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got ‘til it’s gone.”
What resonated with me about hearing these lyrics during the run up to the referendum vote on April 23rd was the realization that we, as Islanders, could potentially be coming to this same conclusion if we don’t make a conscious effort to maintain our proven, stable and nation-wide system of first-past-the-post voting.
Throughout the referendum period, we have heard the Yes side of the campaign promise that MMP (mixed member proportional representation) will ensure more women, more people of colour, a broader range of ages and better representation from the LGBTQ community within our legislature. They have also implied that the inevitable minority governments that MMP will perpetuate will be a ‘good thing’ for the province as all elected officials will work together in a utopian-styled consensus manner.
These promises have absolutely no factual grounds to support their arguments. There are no provisions that ensure any form of affirmative action when political parties choose the nine names to appear on this second ballot – it will simply be a popularity contest, and as such, parties will select the highest profile names available to them (most likely from urban locations).
With regards to the implied benefits of continuous minority/coalition governments, we should all consider the recently published words of a former Speaker of our own legislature, who has observed that MMP has led to the rise of single-issue parties in other jurisdictions, and as such, have held their coalition governments at ransom while trying to promote narrow, non-inclusive policies.
Perhaps the most significant impact that MMP would bring to rural P.E.I. is the loss of MLAs representing the residents’ interests. Under MMP, the number of districts will be reduced from 27 to 18. West Prince and Kings County would see their geographic ridings swell in size as their MLAs will now be responsible to 50 per cent more voters than in the past. This proposed change to our electoral boundaries is far from progressive and results in rural Prince Edward Island losing its voice.
Voting for change, simply for change sake, is a dangerous path to go down. If it’s change that you desire, seek change with your first ballot when voting for your district MLA.
If stability and a proven democratic system is your wish, vote No on April 23. For the sake of our stable, proven and accountable electoral system, let’s not put ourselves in a position where ‘we don’t know what we’ve had ‘til it’s gone!’
John Barrett (No What To Vote), Charlottetown.