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OPINION: Thank you, Mr. Aylward

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan Baker speaks to reporters after throne speech in this Guardian file photo.
Green Party Leader Peter Bevan Baker speaks to reporters after throne speech in this Guardian file photo. - Brian McInnis

Greens welcome full discussion on appropriateness of Nunavut style of government for P.E.I.

BY PETER BEVAN-BAKER

GUEST OPINION

Having spent almost three years on the inside of Island politics, and witnessed the rabidly divisive and partisan habits of that world, I was both surprised and delighted by James Aylward’s opinion piece which floated the proposal of radical electoral reform through a consensus-style legislature like the one in Nunavut, with no political parties.

As a legislator, during the last three years, I have also learned to distinguish when a problem is related to an inadequate rule or process, and when it is rooted in the culture and habits of the place: often times it is both. For example, the work of legislative standing committees should be non-partisan and collaborative, and there is nothing inherent in the way those committees are set up that would prevent them from operating in that manner. But decades of ingrained behaviour and deep distrust cause the committees to be infected with every bit as much partisanship as gets displayed daily in question period.

Aylward talks of, “… changing the current system … to come up with a process that fully utilizes the talents of all elected MLAs,” and he goes on to say, “Our current system is based on the winner take all, decide all. This reduces the role of individual MLAs.” In actuality, the system, though far from perfect, does not dictate that the role of MLAs be reduced, or that their talents go underutilized. The reason that happens here on P.E.I., and elsewhere, is because the old parties, over time, have corrupted our democratic institutions, and allowed damaging, partisan habits to dominate.

If we adopted proportional representation, co-operation across party lines is not only possible, it is essential. Even in our present deeply flawed, antiquated First-Past-the-Post version of democracy, if MLAs were to behave in their roles as originally conceived, where they represent their community before their party, we could have the sort of collaborative government that Aylward imagines.

Aylward, tellingly, did not commit to instituting consensus style government if his party gets elected, saying that, “it’s not going to happen overnight.” Proportional Representation – a tried and trusted electoral system that produces exactly the kind of co-operation Aylward desires, could, however be adopted overnight.

Personally, I’d love to see a full discussion on the appropriateness of the Nunavut style of government for P.E.I. – indeed it was brought up by a small number of presenters during the community engagement phase of the electoral reform process we underwent leading up to the plebiscite in 2016.

So, thank you, James Aylward, for your radical idea. In the meantime, let’s honour the vote, adopt Proportional Representation, and take a bold step towards what many of us – including Aylward, and apparently the PC caucus - would love to see practised in Island politics: Politicians collaborating in non-partisan consensus decision-making for the betterment of our community.

- Peter Bevan-Baker is leader of the Green Party of P.E.I.

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