Can politics change on P.E.I.?
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.