Leaders say they will honour the vote in P.E.I's referendum on electoral reform
'I hope it's only the beginning of how we look at how we govern ourselves'
All four party leaders on P.E.I. say they will honour the vote in an upcoming referendum on changing the electoral system on the Island.
Three of the four leaders also say they will abide by legislation passed by the previous Liberal government requiring super-majority support in order to switch to proportional representation, even though the requirement to meet that threshold won't be binding on the next government.
P.E.I.'s Referendum Act requires a "yes" vote to meet two thresholds to trigger a change from the current first-past-the-post system to mixed member proportional.
It must receive the support of a majority of voters in the referendum (50 per cent, plus one vote), and it also must receive majority support in at least 60 per cent of the Island's electoral districts (at least 17 of 27 districts).
'I'm obligated to follow the laws that are put in place'
Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said his party will not only "honour the vote" but also "honour the law," even though he said the additional threshold is "unnecessary" and designed "to make this a more difficult threshold to reach."
"I think Islanders need to have confidence in their legislators that they're not going to monkey around with legislation which has already been passed in the House for their own personal gain," said Bevan-Baker.
"I would love to see MMP installed but I'm not going to go back on the legislation."
It was Bevan Baker who led the charge calling on the government of Wade MacLauchlan to honour the results of a 2016 plebiscite where Islanders chose mixed member proportional from among five electoral models, including first-past-the-post.
He was also among the first to point out the province's referendum can't technically be binding on the next government, something confirmed by the province's referendum commissioner, former P.E.I. chief justice Gerard Mitchell.
Like Bevan-Baker, PC Leader Dennis King is on the record saying he supports a move to MMP. He also said the PCs would honour the two thresholds set in P.E.I.'s Referendum Act.
"I think the debate has been ongoing back-and-forth as to whether this threshold is too high to reach, whether it's a fair threshold," King said, adding that it's unlikely whatever party forms government will end up with the same level of support required to change the electoral system.
However, he said "if I want to be the premier of Prince Edward Island, I'm obligated to follow the laws that are put in place."
King said he hopes the discussion of electoral reform on P.E.I. continues no matter the result of the referendum. "I hope it's only the beginning of how we look at how we govern ourselves."
NDP Leader Joe Byrne said "a 50 per-cent-plus-one vote requires a discussion by the elected members" of the new legislature, regardless of whether the second threshold is met.
"They're not going to be bound by the old rules. They're going to be bound by the results," he said.
Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan said the dual threshold is "meant to indicate the overall level of support among Islanders and the inclusive level of support from all parts of Prince Edward Island."
As to whether his Liberals will honour the results of the referendum, MacLauchlan said "100 per cent yes of course."
"We're the party that brought in the referendum bill … it is very clear what the threshold is, what the level of support will be, what the question is. We absolutely as a government, and as a party in whatever capacity we are in the legislature, are committed to following through on the referendum."
A plebiscite in November 2016 ended with 52 per cent of voters supporting MMP on a ranked ballot that included five electoral systems, including first-past-the-post.
But MacLauchlan issued a statement after the results were tabulated, saying it was "doubtful" whether the results constituted a clear expression of the will of P.E.I. voters based on turnout of just 36 per cent.