Can pol­i­tics change on P.E.I.?

Journal Pioneer - - EDITORIAL - BY MARIE BURGE

The third ses­sion of the Six­ty­fifth Gen­eral As­sem­bly of the P.E.I. Leg­is­la­ture opened Tues­day. Many P.E.I. res­i­dents are in­ter­ested in how the con­tin­u­a­tion of elec­toral re­newal will play out. Pre­mier MacLaugh­lan re­jected the 2016 plebiscite vot­ers’ choice, Mixed Mem­ber Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion. How­ever he made it clear that in the next elec­tion, spring 2019, there would be a ref­er­en­dum on elec­toral sys­tems as part of the reg­u­lar bal­lot.

In var­i­ous forms since the 2016 plebiscite, the pre­mier has made it clear that Mixed Mem­ber Pro­por­tional would be on the up­com­ing ref­er­en­dum bal­lot plus one other choice. It seems that the Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly will de­cide on the sec­ond choice on the ref­er­en­dum bal­lot. Cooper In­sti­tute, as a mem­ber of the Coali­tion for Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion, is of course in­ter­ested in what will be de­cided as a ref­er­en­dum ques­tion. But just as im­por­tant we are con­cerned about what form of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment will take place in prepa­ra­tion for the ref­er­en­dum. How peo­ple de­cide to vote in the ref­er­en­dum is their choice. But it should be an en­light­ened choice. No­body has the right to set out to im­pose a choice on cit­i­zens. The peo­ple need to de­cide with­out un­due pres­sure.

The more com­pli­cated and/or high-pres­sured the “ed­u­ca­tion” process is, the less will vot­ers make a free choice.

Ba­si­cally though, our big­gest con­cern is not about how ready the com­mu­nity will be to vote and even to adopt Mixed Mem­ber Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion, if that were to be the re­sult of the 2019 ref­er­en­dum. We are more con­cerned that the po­lit­i­cal par­ties will not be ready. The cur­rent four po­lit­i­cal par­ties have for years been steeped in a win­ner­loser, ad­ver­sar­ial elec­tion style.

All of the par­ties need to do some soul-search­ing and train­ing. A first ques­tion: how ready are the par­ties to ac­cept that ab­so­lute power would never again be their elec­tion prize? Sec­ondly: how do you go from a po­si­tion of out­right com­pe­ti­tion, and some­times hos­til­ity, to one of co­op­er­a­tion across party lines and shar­ing power?

For many peo­ple in P.E.I., it will be a wel­come day when the rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Leg­is­la­ture will re­flect the ac­tual vote of cit­i­zens. But it is also es­sen­tial that their MLAs rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests, needs, and con­cerns of the peo­ple.

We want poli­cies that are de­signed, based on the will of the peo­ple. We want poli­cies made in full view of the peo­ple (that’s what trans­parency means). We want poli­cies that go be­yond the let­ter of the law to high­light the spirit of the law.

We want MLAs who know how to work to­gether so that poli­cies, which many groups have iden­ti­fied, will serve the best in­ter­ests of Is­lan­ders.

Some of the poli­cies now wor­ry­ing the pop­u­la­tion are: school clo­sures; elected school boards; men­tal health ser­vices; ap­pro­pri­ate and fair im­mi­gra­tion; pro­tec­tion of land and wa­ter; sus­tain­able ru­ral de­vel­op­ment; cli­mate change; trade jus­tice; food se­cu­rity; vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren; and ba­sic in­come guar­an­tee.

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