P.E.I. to vote on election reform plan
Published May 27th 2005 in CBC News
CHARLOTTETOWN - People on Prince Edward Island will be asked to vote this fall on whether they want to try a new kind of voting, details of which were announced on Friday.

Under the plan, 10 of the province's 27 seats in the legislature would be filled from party lists on the basis of the popular vote each party received.

The other 17 would be filled the old fashioned way – victory would go to the candidate getting the most votes in a given district. The number of districts would shrink to 17 from 27.

The plan was put forward by the Commission on Prince Edward Island's Electoral Future, appointed in February to suggest an alternative to the existing first-past-the-post system.

That system has often caused bitterness when parties got small numbers of seats in comparison to their share of the province-wide vote. For example, the Liberals got 43 per cent of the vote in the last P.E.I election but won only four of the 27 seats.

The commission says the new system could be adopted if it gets approval from 50 per cent plus one of voters. The choices would be along these lines:
  • I vote for the proposed mixed member proportional system.
  • I vote to maintain the current first-past-the-post system.
The result would be considered an expression of voters' sentiment and would not formally bind the government. The date for the plebiscite has not been set.

In the proposed system, voters would fill out two ballots, one for a local candidate and one for a party. Each party would put forward a numbered list of candidates.

If a party won enough votes to qualify for two of the ten seats to be filled from lists, for example, its first and second choices would get seats. The plan would not guarantee that the legislature would perfectly reflect the popular vote, but it might make the outcome less lopsided.

Jeannie Lea, a former Liberal MLA who now represents a group called Every Vote Counts, likes the option being offered.

"There's been several legislatures where there's been only one member in the opposition. And when you look at the popular vote, that's not what the people voted for."

The commission uses P.E.I.'s four federal ridings as a base for the proposed 17 provincial electoral districts. It suggests carving each riding into four provincial seats, with Egmont getting a fifth to ensure representation of the Acadian population.

Its recommendations mirror those of a report issued in 2003 by retired justice Norman Carruthers.

Premier Pat Binns asked Carruthers to explore options for electoral reform after his Conservatives won a lopsided election victory. After a decade of government with little opposition, it was time to consider changes, Binns said.

At least five provinces are studying alternative ways of choosing their governments.

In British Columbia last week, a majority of voters favoured a system called the single transferable vote, but they do not appear to have reached the 60 per cent threshold required for approval. The initial count was 57 per cent in favour, with a final count due to start next week.