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If your neighbours in your voting district care about the same things you do, the voting system we have now probably serves you pretty well. No matter which party’s candidate is elected, you can probably count on them to lobby for the schools, roads and hospitals you and your neighbours want. That is, if their party is in favor of those things.
The problems start when there are issues which cross district boundaries and your MLA is on what you consider to be the wrong side of them. Maybe they’re against the carbon tax and you’re for it, or vice versa. Maybe they want to raise the minimum wage and you think that will kill small businesses. It could be anything. In that case, you might welcome the chance to have a second vote where you can show your party and policy preference. This is where MMP comes in.
MMP is a bit like a combination of our provincial and federal elections all rolled into one. It’s common for a person to vote one way in their district in the provincial election and another way in their relatively huge federal riding. Nobody I know ever complains that Cardigan, Hillsborough, Malpeque or Egmont are so gigantic that one person can’t possibly represent them - but having nine MLAs covering the Island is considered by some to be a deal breaker.
Some old political hands warn that the party lists will be stuffed with party loyalists. This is a common fear before MMP systems are put in place, but I have not been able to find any evidence that this happens. The lists are not secret. People on there are candidates just like in the districts. Voters can see all the names and pick the one they like. If someone is only there because they’re a party hack, they won’t get the votes and it will reflect badly on the party that put them there. Nothing is going to be more scrutinized than these lists.
People look for different things in electoral systems. Partisan politics are thrilling. The excitement of hard-fought contests with big winners and losers has the same appeal as good sports events. We have a great voter turnout on P.E.I. – maybe that would drop off without the drama of winner-take-all elections. But we also want our legislature to truly reflect how diverse we are. That is the core purpose of a representative democracy.
I suggest we try MMP for two elections, then have another referendum. The sky won’t fall and (unlike Brexit) if it’s not serving us well, we can change back.
Rob MacLean, member of the 2005 Electoral Commission,