Islanders can help change electoral system, says May

Mitch MacDonald comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 2, 2016

Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May says hello to Bonshaw youngster Oliver Underhay, who was with his father, Josh Underhay, during a speech at the Victoria Playhouse on Sunday. May spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 about the advantages of voting for a proportional representational electoral system in a provincial plebiscite this fall.

©MITCH MACDONALD/TC MEDIA

VICTORIA - Islanders have an opportunity to become a strong voice in a national discussion on reforming Canada’s “broken” electoral system, Elizabeth May told a crowd of nearly 100 during a visit here on Sunday.

The federal Green Party leader was in P.E.I. for the second consecutive “May Day” this weekend, where she met with supporters at the Victoria Playhouse.

However, the Saanich-Gulf Islands MP spoke little about Green Party philosophy and instead held a “non-partisan” discussion on how to achieve proportional representation in Canada by starting in P.E.I.

She said much of the country will be watching P.E.I. to see how Islanders vote in a plebiscite this November.

“I think Prince Edward Islanders can have a really large impact on the national conversation about electoral reform,” said May.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously said he wants 2015 to be the last federal election to use the first-past-the-post system, although hasn’t indicated which system would likely replace it.

“The timing is amazing… P.E.I. can influence what happens across Canada,” said May. “Rejecting first-past-the-post will be enormously helpful.”

A special committee on electoral democracy has proposed the provincial plebiscite allow Islanders 16-years-old and up to vote on five options for an electoral system, including remaining with the status quo first-past-the-post system.

May encouraged Islanders to vote for the two proportional representational options, dual member and mixed-member electoral systems.

It’s not the first time Islanders have had the option to vote for proportional representation after rejecting it in a 2005 plebiscite.

Anna Keenan of the PR Action Team said the group will be treating this plebiscite like an election campaign.

“It didn’t work out (in 2005). If we miss it this year, it might be 15 or 20 years until we get this opportunity again,” said Keenan. “We need people out there knocking on doors in every one of the 27 districts and talking to people about why it’s important.”

May said switching to a proportional representational system would have a number of benefits including; allowing every vote to count, creating more diverse government, a higher voter turnout, as well as eliminating much of the “nastiness” in politics by increasing cooperation between parties.

“We’ve really got to seize this opportunity,” said May. “I’ve been a supporter of proportional representation for longer than I’ve been in the Green Party… I’ve been noticing the perverse results of first-past-the-post voting for a very long time.”

Lynne Lund, deputy leader of the P.E.I. Green Party, said last year’s provincial election would have seen much different results with one of two proposed systems.

Going by the popular vote, Lund said the provincial Liberal party should have won 11 seats, the Progressive Conservatives would have gotten 10 while the Green party and NDP would have seen three each.

Instead, the Liberal party has 18 seats, the Progressive Conservatives have eight and the Green party has one.

 “Clearly this a sign of the problems we have in our system.”