Electoral reform a remote possibility
Change not possible unless both major parties see benefits
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series on electoral reform.
Picking up where I left off last time, it is worth mentioning that a preferential ballot option would do precious little to help the seat totals of third and fourth parties on P.E.I.
In the words of the White Paper itself, “the system does not directly translate vote share into seat share, and hence may not succeed in making election outcome results more proportional.”
I’m really not sure that any of this matters, except for creating the political perception that the MacLauchan government is interested in change.
For one, Islanders are still reluctant to embrace change-and especially change that could alter their one-on-one relationship with their sitting MLA or dilute the voice of rural P.E.I. in Charlottetown’s legislative assembly. The majority of Islanders are happy with the way things are now.
There is also some confusion around the precise nature of the proposed reforms, particularly with respect to the options for proportional representation (PR). No models are mentioned, other than the preferential option system, in the White Paper.
In 2005, the lack of clarity on the MMP model was an electoral reform killer. And, for the most part, if Islanders don’t know, they don’t show.
What we have learned from the referenda experiences of P.E.I., Ontario and B.C. is that most citizens typically care very little about fundamental electoral reform. Even when educational packages, as limited as they were, were sent to each household, most people indicated to pollsters afterwards that they didn’t fully understand the options on the table.
It is important to note that this time around that neither the P.E.I. Liberals nor the Progressive Conservatives have indicated their firm backing for reform. In 2005, these two parties worked subtly, and not so subtly, to ensure a resounding no vote. I’m not sure that much has changed today.
Without the express endorsement of both the provincial Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, electoral reform on P.E.I. is essentially dead on arrival. So if they or their supporters don’t see the electoral value of reform in terms of their own political survival and lock on power, there won’t be any changes to the existing system. Put another way, P.E.I. will get the reform that only these two parties desire-since they garner routinely some 80 per cent of Island voters.
In addition, there is no mention of the percentage of the vote required for approval (and in how many districts), no reference to any Yes or No campaigns and their spending limits, and no realization that there is no municipal, provincial or federal election slated for 2016 (an almost guarantee of lower turnout).
I hate to sound cynical about these things. But I’m not sure why we’re bothering with this public exercise. Maybe the result will be different from 2005-if only in terms of changed percentages. The final outcome, though, will most likely be an outright rejection of any proposed changes to the current electoral model.