PEI

Referendum commissioner orders cease and desist to unregistered advertiser

P.E.I.’s referendum commissioner has issued a cease and desist order to an organization he says is violating the rules of the Electoral System Referendum Act.

Gerard Mitchell believes organization is operating outside rules of Electoral System Referendum Act

Gerard Mitchell, P.E.I. referendum commissioner, says he has ordered the P.E.I. PR Network to 'cease and desist from violating the ESRA and to return any illegal contributions they may have received.' (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

P.E.I.'s referendum commissioner has issued a cease and desist order to an organization he believes is working outside the rules of the Electoral System Referendum Act.

Gerard Mitchell said the P.E.I. PR Network was acting as an unregistered referendum advertiser soliciting money from "citizens who would like to contribute money toward printing informational brochures about mixed-member proportional representation."

Islanders will vote in a referendum during the next provincial election, which must be held by Oct. 1. They'll be asked whether the province should switch from the current first-past-the-post system to a mixed-member proportional system for electing MLAs.

According to the Electoral System Referendum Act,  an unregistered referendum advertiser can only incur referendum expenses of up to a total of $1,000.

$1,000 limit

In a news release, Mitchell pointed out the ESRA does not permit contributions to referendum advertisers from citizens-at-large. It provides that "only individuals ordinarily resident in the province" can contribute to referendum advertisers.

Furthermore, a referendum advertiser cannot accept contributions of more than $1,000 from any one individual.

The P.E.I. PR Network website makes no reference to this limit, Mitchell said.

He said P.E.I. PR Network is also soliciting help to distribute the brochures. He said if the workers were being paid, it would be considered a referendum expense charged against the unregistered advertiser's $1,000 limit.

'Return any illegal contributions'

"I have sent an email to them directing them to cease and desist from violating the ESRA and to return any illegal contributions they may have received," Mitchell said.

Two groups, "Vote Yes P.E.I." and "No What to Vote," have been approved to handle advertising for the referendum, and have each received $75,000 from government. Islanders can still individually represent a side by being unregistered referendum advertisers and spend up to $1,000.

CBC reached out to the P.E.I. PR Network for comment but has not yet received a response. According to its website, it is a "grassroots information-sharing and co-ordination network for Prince Edward Islanders working towards the goal of a proportional representation electoral system on P.E.I."

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