With the new federal government wasting no time in exploring electoral reform, Prince Edward Island is following suit and over the coming weeks will host town hall meetings so that Islanders can help shape the process. These meetings will be organized by a special committee on democratic renewal focusing the discussion on a potential plebiscite question that will consider whether the province should consider proportional representation.
However, the committee is also studying other alternatives to the current ‘first past the post system’. These options include forms of proportional representation, a ranked ballot option, and a system that would see seats added for party leaders who receive a certain percentage of the vote.
The reform committee tabled a report in the provincial legislature last November stating its recommendations. Elections PEI is tasked with considering alternative methods including the possibility of making online voting available.
Electoral reform is of particular interest to PEI, a province prone to lopsided election results. Although the current assembly is the most balanced in decades and includes a member of the Green Party, the governing Liberals were able to win 67% of the seats with only 41% of the popular vote.
This is not the first time that Islanders have considered electoral reform with the most recent plebiscite having occurred in 2005 where it was soundly defeated. However, some have argued that that attempt was flawed as only one in five polling stations were operational. The proposition was further complicated as the entire issue was compressed into a four week cycle that did not allow voters to fully understand the options. Also, there were only two alternatives proposed and some have argued that electoral reform failed because the option people would have voted for was not on the ballot.
Premier MacLauchlan, a former Dean of Law at the University of New Brunswick whose expertise included constitutional and administrative law as well as public policy and public administration, started this initiative as part of his throne speech. However, in recent weeks he seems to have cooled to the idea having stated that he does not believe in proportional representation, a statement that has drawn criticism from those seeking electoral reform. Some, have even stated their belief that the Premier should not be near the process.
But the process will continue and Islanders will have their say perhaps setting a new standard and trend. The consultation phase will take place over the coming weeks and the plebiscite is expected for November of this year.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.