Getting the best result from electoral reform

With the second round of democratic renewal public consultations about to get under way, I thought it might be a good time to talk about the unique opportunity that PEI has to shape national affairs.

Since its birth, Canada has used the “First-Past-The-Post” system to elect governments at the federal and provincial levels. Prime Minister Trudeau has stated that from now on that won’t be the case federally. The next federal election will use something different to elect our House of Commons.

Meanwhile here on Prince Edward Island, the process of reviewing our electoral system was already well under way before the Liberals assumed power in Ottawa. In July of this year, Premier MacLauchlan launched a special committee to consult with Islanders and to bring forward a question (or questions) for a plebiscite on the issue of democratic reform. I have had the pleasure and privilege of serving on this committee. We have heard from Islanders all across PEI, and received hundreds of written submissions on the topic. As a member of the committee, I have put aside my own preferences and listened openly as Islanders expressed their inclinations for our electoral future. While I understand that discussions on democratic reform don’t necessarily get the heart fluttering, I remain convinced that how we elect our representatives has profound implications when it comes to the nature and quality of governance.

So rather than advocate for a particular electoral system, how about we look at what we want to get from an election outcome? Or put another way, how can we craft the electoral system that will optimise governance on Prince Edward Island? I believe there are several features of such a system, and they are.

  1. That it results in a legislature that accurately reflects the voting intentions of Islanders.
  2. That it produce a legislature where the potential for abuse of power is minimized.
  3. That it be a tool to ensure that the diversity of Island society (i.e. gender, cultural, political, economic, ethnic) be represented in the legislature.
  4. That it encourage collegial behaviour amongst elected representatives.
  5. That it be designed to meet our particular needs here on PEI.

Rather than championing one particular option, how about we agree on the outcomes we would prefer, and then go looking for the system that is most likely to produce it?

So I ask the questions:

Do you agree with my criteria? Is there anything missing from the above list?

If we can agree on what we want, then we can have a useful debate about how the various options before us – status quo, preferential ballot, proportional representation, etc. – fit the bill. It may be that whatever we choose here on PEI is scalable for the whole country, or it may not. Either way, the eyes of the nation will be on our deliberations here, and we have a chance to be pioneers in electoral reform, to modernize our system and improve how we elect our representatives, and more importantly, the governance they provide.