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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - The P.E.I. legislature has unanimously approved Gerard Mitchell as the new referendum commissioner.
Mitchell, a retired chief justice and former police commissioner, was one of eight applicants for the position. Despite past reports that the Opposition Progressive Conservatives had refused to accept the appointment of Mitchell earlier this month, the standing committee on legislative management unanimously approved Mitchell’s appointment.
Under the Electoral System Referendum Act, Mitchell’s appointment required a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature. His appointment received a unanimous vote of support in the legislature on Wednesday afternoon.
The discussions of the Standing Committee were held in-camera, so there is no public record of these discussions. However, on Nov. 9, The Guardian reported that a meeting of the committee ended with the PC party refusing to support Mitchell’s appointment.
Some PC members felt the referendum process was being controlled by the premier’s office. But not all members of the PC caucus shared these feelings.
A spokesperson from the Opposition caucus office stated that, in the end, these concerns were not enough to derail the appointment of Mitchell.
Steven Myers spoke to some of his concerns in the legislature.
“I know that I have had concerns about Mr. Mitchell, not from his judicial background, I think he has a tremendous record there. It was his close association with the Liberal Party that most bothered me,” Myers said.
“That said, Mr. Speaker, I do respect that the committee has done the work and will support the motion.”
The appointment effectively sets in motion a referendum on electoral reform, to take place in conjunction with the next election on P.E.I. The Referendum Act will allow groups to campaign for or against a proportional representation system being established in P.E.I. but sets in place spending limits for such groups.
Islanders voted in favour of proportional representation in a non-binding plebiscite in 2016, after four rounds of counting. A mixed-member proportional system eventually beat out First-Past-The-Post by a 10 per cent margin, although First-Past-the-Post had lead all proportional options until the fourth round.
Citing low voter turnout, Premier Wade MacLauchlan pledged a second referendum, timed with the next election, was necessary to reflect the democratic will of Islanders.