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OPINION: Time to rock cradle

James Aylward, Leader of the Official Opposition, has asked the Standing Committee on Rules, Regulations, Private Bills and Privileges to conduct a review of the Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. 
(Guardian File Photo)
James Aylward, Leader of the Official Opposition, suggests that the Consensus Government model might be an electoral reform option for P.E.I. (Guardian File Photo) - The Guardian

Consensus Government model could be effective solution to many concerns P.E.I. faces

BY JAMES AYLWARD

GUEST OPINION

In his column of March 10, 2018, Alan Holman suggested the party I lead would not support Mixed Proportional representation because we favour the existing system. I would like to correct him on that point. I believe reform of our system is essential to enhancing trust and respect and to maintain a high level of public involvement. I took the position that the party should not formally engage to promote one specific option thereby avoiding the charge of the party trying to influence the outcome.

I support the results of the plebiscite and our PC MLA’s were allowed a free vote. The failure of the premier to act on that preference has further undermined trust in the system and politicians. It has also offered us another opportunity to consider radical reform.

I was disappointed in one aspect of the process - all of the options presented to Islanders were based on the continued direct role of political parties. For those truly interested in reform, I for one, wonder why the Nunavut model of Consensus Government was not presented. It is a model that given the population of Prince Edward Island could be a very effective solution to many of the concerns we face.

It may seem strange for the leader of a political party to be suggesting the possible adoption of a system that does not involve the political parties. Nunavut was established in 1999 and deliberately opted for an elected assembly void of political parties. We now have four main registered political parties in the province, vying for support, advancing policies, raising money, nominating candidates. It may seem like a healthy political environment but is it the most effective? Each party offers some highly talented individuals, some are elected in government and have either a cabinet or backbench role, others are elected in opposition. Many times, the talent of backbench members and opposition members are underutilized in the governing process although they have an equal interest in helping Islanders. My interest in changing the current system is to come up with a process that fully utilizes the talents of all elected MLA’s.

Our current system is based on the winner take all, decide all. This reduces the role of individual MLA’s. As you may recall from part one of my article there is a need for serious reform of the role of MLA’s.

Consensus government achieves that. Each MLA is elected on an individual independent candidate basis. No party platforms, no party signs, no party advertising, no premiers selected by a party, no focus on politics over policy, no backbenchers, no formal opposition. Just good people elected by each district working to provide good government.

All MLAs meet following the election and from their own members elect a speaker and premier, and then the cabinet; all by secret ballot. The premier can assign and reassign portfolios, but it requires a two-thirds vote of all MLAs to remove a minister.

The cabinet is always smaller than half the members so that nothing can be achieved without the input and support of non- cabinet members. Cabinet is truly accountable to the assembly. Mid-term there is a leadership review of the cabinet. Individual members of the assembly have more influence over government actions.

The government business plan, budget estimates and capital expenditures are reviewed in draft form prior to formal presentation to the assembly. MLA’s have the opportunity to suggest changes before the plans are finalized. There is more open discussion and without party lines more openness to collaboration.

We are a province of 150,000. We are the cradle of Confederation. We could also be the cradle of change among the ten provinces for more effective government. Maybe it is time to rock the cradle.

- James Aylward, Leader of Official Opposition and Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I.

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