PEI

Mixed motions: Premier, Green leader spar over electoral reform proposals

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan brought a motion up for debate Friday that would see Islanders vote in a binding referendum on changing the province’s electoral model as part of the 2019 provincial election.

Wade MacLauchlan counters Peter Bevan-Baker's motion with one calling for referendum during next election

Premier Wade MacLauchlan responds to a question from Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker in the P.E.I. Legislature on Friday. (CBC)

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan brought a motion up for debate Friday that would see Islanders vote in a binding referendum on changing the province's electoral model as part of the 2019 provincial election.

A plebiscite this fall found 52 per cent of Island voters support changing to a mixed member proportional electoral model, versus 43 per cent in favour of the current first past the post.

But MacLauchlan has cast doubt on the results based on the voter turnout of 36.5 per cent, suggesting the results may not represent "a clear expression of the will of Prince Edward Islanders."

I believe that any reasonable and well-informed person would agree that we have an imperfect result.– Premier Wade MacLauchlan

"I believe that any reasonable and well-informed person would agree that we have an imperfect result," MacLauchlan told the House on Friday. "That is not an admission of failure. It is a recognition that we can and must do better."

According to MacLauchlan's proposal, "a clear question in a binding referendum on democratic renewal will give all Islanders the confidence of knowing that there is broad-based support for a new electoral model."

Two choices in referendum

The premier has proposed two choices in the referendum: one being mixed member proportional, the second an electoral model to be determined through debate in the legislature.

The leader of the Green Party tabled his own motion earlier in the week, supported by the opposition PCs, calling on the next election to be held under mixed member proportional representation.

Friday, Peter Bevan-Baker said another vote is simply unnecessary.

'Disrespect of taxpayers' dollars'

"Really what the premier is saying is all of that effort, all of that time, all of that money ... The only thing we're going to take from that is we're going to have another vote," he said. "To me that's a real disrespect of taxpayers' dollars. And it's a real disrespect of the 37,000 Islanders who did take the time and effort [to vote in the plebiscite]."

The plebiscite has become a sensitive political issue for the Liberals, most of whom represent districts where voters chose mixed member proportional in the plebiscite.

In the legislature this week, a number of Liberals took aim at Bevan-Baker, complaining about some of the language he's used in the debate over electoral reform. Bevan-Baker complained that Liberal MLA Jordan Brown "filibustered" Bevan-Baker's motion on electoral reform Tuesday night when he spoke for 56 minutes, running out the clock on the evening sitting of the legislature.

Outburst by MacLauchlan

Bevan-Baker also was quoted by CBC News this week calling the premier's plan for a referendum "a cowardly move and … a denial of democracy."

It was MacLauchlan himself who erupted in an uncharacteristic outburst in the House on Friday, as Bevan-Baker was questioning the premier on the province's controversial e-gaming affair.

"When a member opposite appears in the public media and accuses other members of cowardice, or accuses other members of filibustering when they're offering an honest and decent opinion, that's when you start bringing this House into disrepute," said MacLauchlan, jabbing a finger toward Bevan-Baker.

Both motions can be debated

Both MacLauchlan's and Bevan-Baker's motions on electoral reform are currently on the list to be debated in the legislature. The speaker has ruled they can both be debated until either of them has passed.

Since the Liberals control a majority of the House, it's more likely MacLauchlan's motion will carry the day. When asked whether the Liberal caucus will be allowed a free vote on the issue, MacLauchlan didn't answer directly, but said the Liberal caucus has debated the issue for about 12 hours, and is "united in putting forward the motion that was put today."

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