Mixed re­ac­tion to white pa­per

P.E.I. Coali­tion for Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion ex­presses con­cerns on op­tions

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Marie Burge and Brenda Oslawsky are mem­bers of the Cooper In­sti­tute

The com­mu­nity-based or­ga­ni­za­tion, P.E.I. Coali­tion for Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR), met on Thurs­day, July 9, 2015 im­me­di­ately af­ter the re­lease of the White Pa­per on Demo­cratic Re­newal. The re­ac­tion of the PR or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee is mixed.

One the one hand it is pos­i­tive that the gov­ern­ment is re­spond­ing to the con­cerns of the com­mu­nity about the elec­toral sys­tem. Premier MacLauch­lan in his open­ing re­marks rec­og­nizes that P.E.I. could be­come the first Cana­dian ju­ris­dic­tion to move be­yond the ‘first past the post’ sys­tem. It is en­cour­ag­ing to see the at­ten­tion given to wide in­volve­ment of the com­mu­nity. The three-party Spe­cial Leg­isla­tive Com­mit­tee struck to en­gage Is­lan­ders is made up of politi­cians with solid con­nec­tions to the wide Is­land com­mu­nity.

On the other hand, the pro­posed al­ter­na­tives to the cur­rent first-past-the-post sys­tem do not as­sure the Coali­tion that the Gov­ern­ment has in­ten­tions of mov­ing to­wards true pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. A great deal of em­pha­sis is given to the so-called “pref­er­en­tial bal­lot.” This bias is un­set­tling be­cause it gives the im­pres­sion that the pref­er­en­tial bal­lot will re­sult in bal­anced rep­re­sen­ta­tion. History in other ju­ris­dic­tions (such as Aus­tralia) in­di­cates that shift­ing to this form of vot­ing has lit­tle in­flu­ence to­wards cor­rect­ing im­bal­ance of par­ties in the leg­is­la­ture. It does not rem­edy the prob­lem of wasted votes and the many vot­ers who have no rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Un­der the pref­er­en­tial bal­lot sys­tem the num­ber of party seats in the house still would not re­flect the pop­u­lar vote. This sys­tem does not ad­dress the in­clu­sion of women, Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, and oth­ers of di­verse abil­i­ties and back­grounds who are un­der rep­re­sented in our cur­rent sys­tem.

While gov­ern­ments and leg­is­la­tures en­act many ma­jor lifechang­ing poli­cies with­out a ref­er­en­dum, the White Pa­per an­nounces that a plebiscite will be held on the elec­toral re­form is­sue. It goes so far as to sug­gest the de­sign of the plebiscite ques­tion, made up of three op­tions. These are: first-past-the-post; pref­er­en­tial bal­lot; pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. What is clear and pos­i­tive in the choices for the plebiscite vote is that the cur­rent Gov­ern­ment rec­og­nizes that pref­er­en­tial bal­lot is not pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

The Coali­tion is en­cour­aged by the fol­low­ing in­spir­ing quote from the White Pa­per: “A widely ac­cepted prin­ci­ple for elec­toral sys­tems is that they should re­sult in leg­is­la­tures that mir­ror their so­ci­ety–re­flect­ing de­mo­graphic di­ver­sity and a rich range of ideas, in­ter­ests, and per­spec­tives. Such an achieve­ment is seen as hav­ing ma­jor ben­e­fits.

First and fore­most, it strength­ens so­cial co­he­sion and trust in democ­racy, as peo­ple from all walks of life feel that they are rep­re­sented in their elected body. It also en­sures that public pol­icy is en­riched with di­verse view­points and new ideas, and is sen­si­tive to all sec­tors of so­ci­ety” Bravo!

The P.E.I. Coali­tion for Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion is com­mit­ted to work­ing in the com­mu­nity to pro­vide Is­lan­ders with an op­por­tu­nity to talk with each other about pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. This will be a prepa­ra­tion for the meet­ings with the Spe­cial Leg­isla­tive Com­mit­tee dur­ing the fall and win­ter of 2015-2016.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als in­ter­ested in join­ing and/or sup­port­ing the Coali­tion for Pro­por­tional Rep­re­sen­ta­tion can con­tact Cooper In­sti­tute. Phone 902-894-4573; or cooperin­sti­tute@east­link.ca

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