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GUEST COMMENTARY: Voters want change, but MMP is not it

A symposium entitled “Electoral Referendum Choices: What Do Seniors Want to Know?’’ will be held at Murphy’s Community Centre on Richmond Street in Charlottetown on Jan. 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
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The recent guest opinion published in the Journal-Pioneer entitled “MMP fits our multi-party environment,” by Mr. Hans Connor requires rebuttal. Many ‘no’ supporters are entrepreneurs, neighbours, and friends who are concerned about a proposed change to our system of representative democracy which could bring far more damage than benefit to P.E.I. If that is being “stuck in the mud”, I hope our Island mud remains sticky.

Mr. Connor’s remarks bring attention to the politics of the “backroom.” I find it more ironic, and indeed troubling, that many supporters of MMP who were motivated by that very same complaint regarding the “backroom boys” are now supporting a system that would give even greater power to the “backroom.” No matter how List MLAs would be selected, they would answer to that back room.

Regarding his comments on fixed election dates, many voters believe that fixed election dates cause political paralysis as parties focus on the election date instead of governance, oftentimes for up to a year in advance of the date.

The historical changes to our democratic processes that Mr. Connor has chronicled did not weaken or infringe upon the most basic principle of our representative democracy, which is that every elected member answers to his/her constituents and not to the political party. It cannot be argued that the MLA does not serve the party he/she represents; of course he/she does. But he/she ultimately answers to the constituents at every election if not sooner. MMP takes away our power over our MLA and gives it to the political parties “backroom.” MMP also encourages the creation of more political “parties” which often have few objectives and may even promote extreme philosophies.

Mr. Connor promotes a system where fully 33 per cent of our MLAs would no longer serve or answer directly to the voter. It rewards parties which have been unable to garner support under our current representative system by changing the rules in an effort to make it easier for them to win. But at what cost? Mr. Connor has not identified the cost of rewarding failure. It is substantial, it is paralyzing, and possibly dangerous. Every jurisdiction that has a form of proportional representation (PR) has seen the emergence of small special interest parties which can hold power over a government and promote their narrow agendas. In Europe today, many PR governments are joining forces, not to create better government, but to block extremist parties from gaining political power. PR empowers fringe parties by offering them access to power and influence.

Many people in P.E.I., myself included, support changes that will make our democracy function better. But we can do better than MMP to bring change. MMP has many negatives and carries much baggage. Do not vote for change simply for change’s sake. That is reckless and can be dangerous. In the 2016 plebiscite, nearly one-half of the eventual 19,400 voters that supported MMP after four rounds of a ranked ballot process did not support MMP as their first choice. Equally interesting is the fact that a number of voters who supported options other than PR did not stay with the status quo. People want change. The current debate is fueling the desire for change. We must make sure that the changes we choose are P.E.I.- focused, P.E.I.-specific, and which benefit P.E.I. MMP is not the change we need. Vote ‘no’ to reckless change.

Gary Morgan lives in Fortune Cove, P.E.I.

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