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Coalition for Proportional Representation Response to White Paper on Electoral Reform

PEI Coalition has mixed reaction to recently-released white paper

Monday, July 20, 2015

The community-based organization, PEI Coalition for Proportional Representation (PR), met on Thursday, July 9, 2015 immediately after the release of the White Paper on Democratic Renewal. The reaction of the PR organizing committee is mixed.

The community-based organization, PEI Coalition for Proportional Representation (PR), met on Thursday, July 9, 2015 immediately after the release of the White Paper on Democratic Renewal. The reaction of the PR organizing committee is mixed.

One the one hand it is positive that the government is responding to the concerns of the community about the electoral system. Premier MacLauchlan in his opening remarks recognizes that PEI could become the first Canadian jurisdiction to move beyond the ‘first past the post’ system. It is encouraging to see the attention given to wide involvement of the community. The three-party Special Legislative Committee struck to engage Islanders is made up of politicians with solid connections to the wide Island community.

On the other hand, the proposed alternatives to the current first-past-the-post system do not assure the Coalition that the Government has intentions of moving towards true proportional representation. A great deal of emphasis is given to the so-called “preferential ballot.” This bias is unsettling because it gives the impression that the preferential ballot will result in balanced representation. History in other jurisdictions (such as Australia) indicates that shifting to this form of voting has little influence towards correcting imbalance of parties in the legislature. It does not remedy the problem of wasted votes and the many voters who have no representation. Under the preferential ballot system the number of party seats in the house still would not reflect the popular vote. This system does not address the inclusion of women, Aboriginal people, and others of diverse abilities and backgrounds who are under represented in our current system.

While governments and legislatures enact many major life-changing policies without a referendum, the White Paper announces that a plebiscite will be held on the electoral reform issue. It goes so far as to suggest the design of the plebiscite question, made up of three options. These are: first-past-the-post; preferential ballot; proportional representation. What is clear and positive in the choices for the plebiscite vote is that the current Government recognizes that preferential ballot is not proportional representation.

The Coalition is encouraged by the following inspiring quote from the White Paper: “A widely accepted principle for electoral systems is that they should result in legislatures that mirror their society–reflecting demographic diversity and a rich range of ideas, interests, and perspectives. Such an achievement is seen as having major benefits.

First and foremost, it strengthens social cohesion and trust in democracy, as people from all walks of life feel that they are represented in their elected body. It also ensures that public policy is enriched with diverse viewpoints and new ideas, and is sensitive to all sectors of society” Bravo!

The P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation is committed to working in the community to provide Islanders with an opportunity to talk with each other about proportional representation. This will be a preparation for the meetings with the Special Legislative Committee during the fall and winter of 2015-2016.

Organizations and individuals interested in joining and/or supporting the Coalition for Proportional Representation can contact Cooper Institute.

Marie Burge and Brenda Oslawsky are members of the PEI Coalition for Proportional Representation

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