Elec­toral re­form a re­mote pos­si­bil­ity

Change not pos­si­ble un­less both ma­jor par­ties see ben­e­fits

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Peter McKenna is chair and pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land in Char­lot­te­town.

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.

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