Electoral reform once again rears its head
Islanders to be asked how they want to choose their government
. . . . The P.E.I. government is pledging to hold a second referendum on electoral reform in 2016. To be honest, I'm not sure whether to jump for joy or to burst out laughing.
Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on electoral reform. There has been a fair amount of buzz around the idea of Prince Edward Island once again walking down the path of "democratic renewal."
It is also worth recalling that we've also been down this often tricky path before in November 2005. Still, some people are more optimistic this time around.
In a July editorial in The Guardian, the person holding the pen opined: "Based on submissions and comment to this newspaper, most Islanders who favour electoral reform are lining up behind mixed-member proportional representation-a voting system adopted by numerous legislatures around the world."
I'd hardly say "numerous" and, besides, that proposed system was an unmitigated disaster in 2005, when the same type of model was up for public approval.
Why would things be different today? Has anything fundamentally changed? Is there a single elected party member on P.E.I. now advancing such a system?
Nonetheless, the P.E.I. government is pledging to hold a second referendum on electoral reform in 2016. To be honest, I'm not sure whether to jump for joy or to burst out laughing.
No matter. P.E.I. is different, so we're told. It is the place where dreams of democratic renewal can come true. Indeed, P.E.I. elected the first female premier, Catherine Callbeck, in 1993 and has some of the highest voter participation rates in the federation (witness the 86 per cent turnout for the May 2015 provincial election, the highest in 30 years). The May election also saw the two opposition parties, the Greens and the NDP, garner a record number of over 20 per cent combined of public support.
In early July, the Liberal government of Wade MacLauchan issued a White Paper on Democratic Renewal, where he mentioned that P.E.I. could become "the first Canadian jurisdiction to move beyond the 'first-past-the-system in choosing our elected representatives." MacLauchan went on to add: "The White Paper invites all Islanders to work together as we build on our traditions and context to put Prince Edward Island on the map for our democratic processes and rates of participation."
According to the White Paper, P.E.I. will seek public consultation on creating four dual ridings (along the lines of the present four federal districts) that would also each have 6 small single-member districts within them ( for a total of 28 elected representatives), the use of a preferential ballot system (where voters could rank two or more preferences/candidates among those offering in each local district) and election finance reform (such as placing restrictions on donations and spending).
A special legislative committee will now be set up to consult with Islanders, to seek broad public input, and to formulate the spring 2016 plebiscite question. That question, as the discussion paper notes, "will be guided by a preferential ballot on the three voting options: (i) first-past-the-post, the current system, (ii) a preferential ballot, (iii) proportional representation." More discussion of this proposal in my second instalment.