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Letter to the editor: Old-school thinking short-sighted, wrong


Last Friday, debate began in the PEI Legislature on a Motion brought forward by Premier MacLauchlan entitled “Democratic Renewal: A Clear Question and a Binding Vote”.

This motion is the Premier’s response to the recent Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal. In the plebiscite, conducted under rules set by all 27 MLAs and the Liberal cabinet, a clear majority of voters (19,418 out of 37,040, or 52.42 per cent) favored a change in the way we elect our MLAs from the current First Past the Post system to a form of Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP).

This motion is the Premier’s response to the recent Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal. In the plebiscite, conducted under rules set by all 27 MLAs and the Liberal cabinet, a clear majority of voters (19,418 out of 37,040, or 52.42 per cent) favored a change in the way we elect our MLAs from the current First Past the Post system to a form of Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP).

Over 68 per cent of plebiscite voters (25,473 to be exact) selected some type of electoral reform as their top choice on the plebiscite’s ranked ballot. Only voters aged 65 and above chose the status quo over a change to our system. These results show there is a real appetite for democratic reform amongst a significant number of Islanders.

With his motion, the premier is asking the Legislative Assembly to adopt a Referendum on Democratic Renewal Act. This Act would require P.E.I.’s government to accept the choice of the voters in a future “binding” referendum on Electoral Reform.

This proposed referendum would be the first in P.E.I.’s history. It would be held in tandem with the next provincial election, presently scheduled for Oct. 7, 2019. The Premier’s Motion also suggests it “will” honour the plebiscite results by including MMP as one of two choices on the referendum ballot.

Fundamentally, the premier’s promise of a “binding” referendum is an empty promise. In Prince Edward Island, the Legislature enjoys absolute sovereignty. When in session at Province House (or until 2020, the Coles Building) our 27 MLAs are supreme over all other provincial governmental institutions. This includes every department within P.E.I.’s public service, our provincial courts, the premier’s cabinet (Executive Council) and even the Office of the Premier itself.

Importantly, the P.E.I. Legislature is also sovereign over itself. This means that the Legislature cannot be bound by laws passed by previous P.E.I. Legislatures – MLAs can repeal or amend old laws to choose their own course. Because of this, the “binding” referendum proposed by our premier cannot truly be binding.

In other words, just as Premier MacLauchlan appears reluctant to honour the vote from the plebiscite, P.E.I.’s next Legislature – with either Wade MacLauchlan or an as-yet-unknown successor in the premier’s office – could decide that the “binding” referendum wasn’t so binding after all.

Given his stated opposition to Proportional Representation, the premier seems to be betting that 25,000 Islanders will lose their appetite for electoral reform as fall 2016 fades into history. Backroom advisors in both traditional parties are probably making the same assumption. Old-school thinkers are confident that the Red and Blue party machines will crush any movement for change when their party machinery is operating at peak capacity during a full-blown provincial election campaign.

The old-school line of thinking is wrong and short-sighted. Citizens from all our political parties support building a better democracy in Prince Edward Island, starting right now. To demonstrate this, MLAs on both sides of the House should stand up and vote against the premier’s motion.

Jonathan Greenan

Summerside

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