Electoral reform: Voters have spoken, time for premier to take action

Staff ~ The Journal Pioneer newsroom@journalpioneer.com
Published on November 8, 2016

The stage is set. It’s time to get on with the business of governing Prince Edward Island. And following the conclusion Monday of the plebiscite on electoral reform in this province, that means changing the way Islanders elect their Members of the Legislative Assembly.

The electorate, with 52.42 per cent of the vote, has chosen Mixed Member Proportionate Representation from the five options on offer. The others included: First-Past-the-Post (the current system); Dual Member Proportional Representation; Preferential voting; First-Past-the-Post plus leaders.

Elections P.E.I. allowed Islanders to vote online, by telephone and in-person during the 10-day vote. The ranked ballot saw 37,040 votes cast, which translates into a turnout of 36.46 per cent of registered voters.

Now that it’s over there seems to be some of the opinion that those who chose not to cast a vote in the plebiscite were somehow content with the current system. If that is the case then it is very unfortunate for them. That is not how democracy is designed to work.

It’s sadder too that the premier, following his statement Tuesday on the results, seems to share that view.

There is no arguing that a voter turnout under 37 per cent is disappointing, but it does not mean democracy does not move forward. If that percentage were ever the turnout in a general election (look no further than some municipal elections or provincial byelections) there would be those who would bemoan the numbers, but the result would still stand – just as it ought to in this instance.

If the United Kingdom can leave the European Union with 51.9 per cent, certainly P.E.I. can change its electoral system with 52.42 per cent.

What the results of this plebiscite tell us is not that the 63 per cent of the electorate who chose not to vote support the existing system. It shows us that they were indifferent to the process and its result. It says that they have no strong preference one way or another. If they did they would have voted. After all the current system was on the ballot. In fact 42.84 per cent of voters indeed supported keeping it. It was the second most popular choice.

But for those out there who do not like or agree with the result of the plebiscite, the people – at least those with an opinion on the matter – have spoken. If you have a position, and it’s on the ballot, you support it. If not, your opinion, like the vote you chose not to exercise doesn’t count.

It’s now time for Premier Wade MacLauchlan to get on with it, despite Tuesday’s long-winded excuse for delay. He avoided throughout the process stating how he would react to the results, but now, the premier, should he choose not to act on the will of the electorate, throws into question his entire election campaign of open and transparent government and doing things differently. In short he may have the legal right to continue to govern but the moral right has abandoned him.