‘Prince Edward Island lacks political imagination,’ says MLA

MLA Jordan Brown spoke about the electoral reform at a meeting in Charlottetown Sept. 26. Brenlee Brothers photo.

By Brenlee Brothers

Sept. 28, 2016

Islanders will have a chance to reform the electoral system at the end of October, and if they want, they can do it without their pants on.

Peter Bevan-Baker joked about that idea at a meeting Sept. 26.

He was talking about the upcoming plebiscite at the end of October, where Islanders can vote online from Oct. 29 to Nov. 7 or in person Nov. 4-5.

About 50 people showed up at the Pourhouse in Charlottetown to learn more about electoral reform and the voting options on the plebiscite.

There are five options to choose from including the existing system. It’s complicated.

The existing system is first-past-the-post, whichever party gets the most votes, wins. One reform would be that, but all party leaders would be guaranteed a seat.

There is an option for preferential voting. Voters would rank each member from one to five and the MLAs would be chosen that way.

The last two options are for proportional representation.

The dual-member system would cut the number of ridings from 27 to 14, each with two members instead of one. The first seat would be awarded whoever gets the most votes and the second to whatever party does well.

Mixed member proportional representation would use a list of candidates from each party. Voters would pick which MLA they prefer.

It’s important the legislature reflect the diversity of the Island, said Bevan-Baker.

“At the moment, we have a system which inherently causes the people on either side of the house to be antagonistic, confrontational, and in fractious.”

Islanders need an electoral system which minimizes the opportunity for abuse of power and promotes collaboration between all parties, he said.

“Proportional systems are shown to produce legislatures that are more diverse.”

Mark Greenan did his graduate research at Ottawa University on the 2005 plebiscite.

There are two key principles that underline proportional representation systems, he said.

“The first is that every voter within reason, deserves representation.”

Also, government should reflect the majority of voters. But under the current system, it’s possible for parties to win a majority government with fewer votes than their closest opponent, he said.

“I think it should be clear that some of the democratic problems within this system allow the party with less votes to have majority control.”

Jordan Brown is the chair of the special committee on democratic renewal in P.E.I and an MLA.

The electoral system on P.E.I. is a constantly evolving one, but change isn’t easy. The 2005 plebiscite on electoral reform attracted a voter turnout of just 34 per cent, Brown said.

“It was generally regarded as less than successful.”

However, the conversations continued on and ultimately led to a recommendation for a plebiscite with the four new options, plus the existing system, he said.

“We’re looking forward to see how the results shake down and what that means for Prince Edward Islanders.”

The Pourhouse meeting was limited to those ages 19 and above, but anyone 16 and up can vote in the plebiscite.

Taya Nabuurs said Elections PEI will continue to go to high shools across the Island and put on educational events at the university campus. Nabuurs is the UPEI student union director of communications and a public education officer with Elections PEI.

She has received a number of comments from people wondering why 16 and 17-year-olds are included in the plebiscite.

“Interestingly, I’ve seen more engagement with them than I have in a lot of the older demographic.”

The younger people are so excited to have this opportunity, she said.

“It’s really great too, because they are very open minded.”