Prince Edward Island Poised for Battle over '18Th Century' Voting System

The Canadian Press, June 13, 2018 | Go to article overview

Prince Edward Island Poised for Battle over '18Th Century' Voting System


P.E.I. poised for battle over voting system

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CHARLOTTETOWN - A referendum law that could see the cradle of Confederation become the birthplace of proportional representation passed Tuesday, more than a year after Justin Trudeau struck the option from potential national reforms.

P.E.I. legislators approved the Electoral System Referendum Act on Tuesday evening, laying out what Attorney General Jordan Brown describes as a "fair choice" that will "determine the electoral future of the province."

The question in the bill -- "Should Prince Edward Island change its voting system to a mixed member proportional voting system?" -- may also boost the system's national exposure, alongside British Columbia's preparations for a mail-in referendum on the issue this fall.

The Island vote poses a simple "Yes" or "No" option, with political scientists predicting a tight battle over the outcome.

Proponents are arguing P.E.I. is fertile ground for an early win for the system, depending on when a provincial election is held.

One key argument is small jurisdictions like P.E.I. -- where one of two parties often holds a lop-sided majority -- don't have sufficient checks on the government.

"I think our electoral system is an 18th century system and we need to bring it into the 21st century," says Leo Cheverie, an advocate for a "Yes" vote.

However, opposition groups are now starting to form with sharply differing views.

Opponents like Dr. Gary Morgan, a veterinarian in Mill River, P.E.I., says he fears his province will become a "battlefield and bellwether for people who want this electoral reform for regions in Canada."

"It's a threat to rural voice in Prince Edward Island ... in western P.E.I., we have five members representing us in the legislature and that would be down to two."

A "No" vote would mean the continuation of 27 legislature seats chosen by the first-past-the-post method, while a "Yes" creates a system of voters choosing 18 legislators in redrawn electoral districts and also casting province-wide ballots for nine others from lists parties create.

The "list" seats would be assigned proportionately based on the popular vote each party received on the second part of the ballots.

Under the terms of the referendum bill voted on Tuesday, members of the legislature must still briefly reconvene to approve a referendum commissioner. The bill says a victory for the "Yes" side will require a majority of votes cast in the referendum ballot in at least 60 per cent of the electoral districts.

Mixed member proportional representation won a majority of the votes in a 2016 plebiscite on the Island, but Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan set the results aside due to a low turnout, promising he'd offer another referendum in the next general election.

Political scientist Don Desserud says it's too early to predict an outcome in Round 2.

"The polling numbers are pretty evenly split ... so it's going to be interesting to see in an actual election how that plays out," said the University of Prince Edward Island professor.

Cheverie is already working behind the scenes, and predicts much of the campaign will occur through one-on-one chats among Islanders.

The P.E.I. Proportional Representation Network website is using grassroots organizing methods, inviting participants to "share ideas," and "if other citizens think it's a good idea, they will join you and make it happen," through online chat groups. …

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