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OPINION: Appetite for electoral change still strong in P.E.I.

Islanders were going to the polls a year ago in the plebiscite on electoral reform
(File Graphic)
Islanders for Proportional Representation is urging the P.E.I. government to take seriously their obligation to promote electoral reform in the form of concrete plans.

Islanders for Proportional Representation (IPR) is a new community organization dedicated to carrying on the effort to improve our Island democracy by adopting Proportional Representation. Our newly elected government’s first legislative sitting was disappointing. There was a complete absence of how exactly the new government will be following up the referendum results on proportional representation.

In an attempt to inform and engage the MLAs before the sitting of the legislature, our organization contacted all MLAs. We wanted to assist them in what we expected would be one of their major concerns: how they should respond to the referendum results. Even the speech from the throne barely acknowledged the referendum.

Why the concern? The referendum commissioner publicly stated on May 21 that the results mean: “That neither the ‘No’ nor the ‘Yes’ sides received enough votes to bind the Government according to s.4(1) of the Electoral System Referendum Act”. It seems an ideal situation for government to lead boldly and educate on what is needed. However let’s look at what happened.

Despite referendum rules having been designed to legally intimidate and stifle speech, an inordinately short referendum period, and the distraction of an election that sucked much of the oxygen out of the room, the Yes side came very close to winning. Vote Yes won the majority of ridings, and 48.6 per cent of the popular vote, despite these disadvantages. Widespread support bridged rural and urban areas. In seven electoral districts percentage of Yes support was in the mid to high 40s.

In the opinion of many, the previous government did not adequately acknowledge the strong appetite for reform, remaining fearful of meaningful progress. Even a slightly longer campaign may have yielded a very different result.

Islanders are fortunate that the makeup of the legislature today happens to be roughly aligned with the way Islanders voted. We are optimistic that the parties will work well together for the betterment of Islanders. Evidence shows, however, that the result is an anomaly under our current system. It is antiquated and ensures that future elections will produce more lopsided results out of line with the will of Islanders, and that parties have an ongoing, perverse incentive to trigger unnecessary elections to play in that electoral casino.

We thank MLA Steve Howard for his excellent response to the speech from the throne, which made a number of important points. We call on this government, and the Opposition parties, to make electoral reform a front burner issue in future sittings of the Legislature and to work on strategies in the interim before the next sitting.

We applaud the government’s commitment to form a panel of citizens and elected members to consider reforms to the Legislature, but this commitment is vague, doesn’t go far enough and fails to outline any clear objectives. Islanders’ beliefs in proportional representation do not deserve to be shunted to a back burner.

Therefore, Islanders for Proportional Representation is urging the P.E.I. government to take seriously their obligation to promote electoral reform in the form of concrete plans. We suggest that the proposed special committee on committees be mandated to create immediately a new special commission on proportional representation, on mixed member proportional representation in particular. The new commission would be made up of MLAs and other citizens. The commission would be mandated to propose a step-by-step process for establishing proportional representation for P.E.I. in preparation for the 2023 election. The commission would be expected to submit that process to the spring 2020 sitting of the legislative assembly.

Stephen DeGrace wrote this piece on behalf of Islanders for Proportional Representation.

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