PEI

P.E.I. to give $75K to both sides in electoral reform referendum

The P.E.I. government will provide $75,000 in taxpayer funding for both the 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns for the province’s upcoming referendum on electoral reform, according to a bill tabled Thursday in the provincial legislature.

A referendum commissioner will also be appointed to oversee the vote

J. Alex Halderman has hacked into electronic voting machines in front of U.S. Congress to demonstrate that the machines a vulnerable to tampering. (CBC)

The P.E.I. government will provide $75,000 in taxpayer funding for both the 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns for the province's upcoming referendum on electoral reform, according to a bill tabled Thursday in the provincial legislature.

Beyond that, no groups will be permitted to solicit donations or otherwise raise money to pay for advertising or promotion for one side or the other.

In order to qualify to receive some of the combined $150,000 in provincial funding for referendum advertisers, groups must register with the province and face restrictions on who can be a member or a director with their organization.

Groups that are not registered as referendum advertising would be restricted to spending no more than $500.

According to the legislation, the measures are intended to establish "a level playing field for those who wish to publicly oppose or support a change to the voting system … by providing equal public funding for organizations"

The bill, tabled by the province's Attorney General Jordan Brown, says government is limiting spending on advertising "in a reasonable manner, for the public good, so that residents of the province have the opportunity to make a decision that is based on information from both points of view."

Government to appoint referendum commissioner

Under the act, a referendum commissioner would be appointed to oversee the vote. That position is to be filled by June 1, 2018. Groups wishing to register as referendum advertisers would have until July 1 to do so.

The question, as was put forward in a government motion in the legislature, is:

Should Prince Edward Island change its voting system to a mixed member proportional voting system? No / Yes

Threshold to make it binding

In 2016, Elections P.E.I. made online videos to explain the different options for the electoral reform plebiscite. This time, just two options are on offer. (Elections P.E.I./Youtube)

The bill says either answer on the referendum ballot would need more than 50 per cent support to be considered binding — but there's a catch.

That 50 per cent doesn't refer to the number of referendum ballots cast — it refers to the number of people who vote in the general election, planned in conjunction with the referendum.

That means if more Islanders vote in the general election than in the referendum, it will push up the margin of victory required by either the 'Yes' or 'No' side to be considered binding by government.

However, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty means that the current government can't force the hand of a future government. So the decision on whether to change P.E.I.'s electoral system will ultimately rest with whatever government Islanders choose the day of the vote.

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About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca