Is­lan­ders hunger for re­newal, re­form of demo­cratic sys­tem

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

The re­cent pro­vin­cial elec­tion clearly in­di­cates that Is­lan­ders are ready and hun­gry for change. Call it what you will – demo­cratic re­newal or elec­toral re­form - but the time is ripe to pro­ceed. En­gage­ment and trans­parency were com­mon themes from all par­ties dur­ing the cam­paign be­cause they ac­cu­rately sensed the mood of Is­lan­ders. The out­come of that elec­tion fo­cused at­ten­tion on the dis­torted re­sults, where voter sup­port was not fairly rec­og­nized among the MLAs elected.

Is­lan­ders in record num­bers – more than 20 per cent - voted for third par­ties. But their voice is largely silent in the House. A close vote be­tween the Lib­er­als and Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives re­sulted in a com­fort­able re-elec­tion for the gov­ern­ment.

Letters and opin­ion ar­ti­cles to this news­pa­per be­came a flood since the elec­tion re­sults May 4 - sup­port­ing change - and of­fer­ing var­i­ous op­tions and sug­ges­tions.

The gov­ern­ment promised in May’s speech from the throne to ta­ble a white pa­per on demo­cratic re­newal that would serve as a means to en­gage Is­lan­ders. That hap­pened Thurs­day.

One could sense history in the mak­ing as Premier Wade MacLauch­lan tabled the doc­u­ment. A mo­tion to cre­ate a spe­cial com­mit­tee of the leg­is­la­ture to con­sult Is­lan­ders was sec­onded by Op­po­si­tion Leader Stephen My­ers and then en­dorsed unan­i­mously by all MLAs. It was non­par­ti­san­ship at its finest.

As the throne speech clearly stated, “Gov­ern­ment will ini­ti­ate and sup­port a thor­ough and com­pre­hen­sive ex­am­i­na­tion of ways in which to strengthen our elec­toral sys­tem . . .” Not only will the re­view deal with elec­toral re­form and how MLAs are elected – although that will be the first pri­or­ity - but also elec­toral dis­tricts and the num­bers of MLAs sit­ting in the leg­is­la­ture.

This is an ex­cit­ing and his­toric era for P.E.I. leg­is­la­tors. The col­le­gial and pos­i­tive com­ments made Fri­day by MLAs prior to the clo­sure of the spring sit­ting re­flected this sense of history and the belief that things may never again be the same in the Cra­dle of Con­fed­er­a­tion. Fri­day marked the end of a ses­sion but the start of jour­ney to­wards re­form that in­creas­ing num­bers of Is­lan­ders are seek­ing.

A lengthy history of lop­sided elec­tion re­sults sparked re­cent ef­forts at elec­toral re­form. In the 2005 plebiscite, the sta­tus quo vote car­ried the day de­ci­sively – 64 per cent to 36 per cent. A valu­able les­son was learned on the need for clar­ity and prior en­gage­ment with Is­lan­ders.

We have to get it right this time. Fail­ure in 2016 could set elec­toral re­form back many years. We need to learn from past mis­takes and not re­peat them. The doc­u­ment’s pur­pose is to ini­ti­ate dis­cus­sion where we have a unique op­por­tu­nity to lead the na­tion on elec­toral re­form.

Is­lan­ders can rightly take pride in the high level of voter turnout where per­cent­ages reach into the high 80s. Re­forms will help main­tain that high level of demo­cratic par­tic­i­pa­tion, and “en­sure our in­sti­tu­tions, pro­cesses and rep­re­sen­ta­tion con­tinue to re­flect the val­ues and in­ter­ests of all Is­lan­ders.”

As the throne speech also pointed out, a di­ver­sity of ideas and per­spec­tives is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to cre­at­ing ef­fec­tive public pol­icy. Democ­racy de­mands that the peo­ple af­fected by a de­ci­sion have a voice in that de­ci­sion. And com­mon sense dic­tates that new di­rec­tions are most likely to be sup­ported by Is­lan­ders if they have a say early in the process.

The white pa­per is an in­for­ma­tive doc­u­ment and a solid start­ing point for MLAs and Is­lan­ders in their com­ing de­lib­er­a­tions.

The leg­is­la­ture com­mit­tee will con­sult Is­lan­ders, present an in­terim re­port by Nov. 30 that will clar­ify the ques­tion to be posed in a plebiscite and then con­sult with Is­lan­ders again on a fi­nal re­port. Is­lan­ders will then vote in the spring of 2016. There is a sense of ur­gency be­fore the lessons learned from the May elec­tion be­gin to fade.

The white pa­per should be viewed as a work­ing doc­u­ment and sub­ject to change once the views of Is­lan­ders are heard. And Is­lan­ders love to talk pol­i­tics. Let the process be­gin.

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