PC leadership candidates divided on electoral reform
King only candidate to firmly support mixed member proportional system
All five candidates for the leadership of the PC Party on P.E.I. say they would honour the vote on electoral reform, but only three came out in favour of one system or the other.
On the ballot in the next provincial election will be a question asking if Prince Edward Island should change its voting system from first-past-the-post to a mixed member proportional voting system.
When the question was put to the five leadership candidates during a panel discussion on CBC Radio's Island Morning, only Dennis King disclosed he would vote yes to MMP.
Allan Dale and Shawn Driscoll said they prefer the current first-past-the-post system, while Kevin Arsenault and Sarah Stewart-Clark would not commit to one or the other.
King said by design, MMP is "the best choice to give Islanders a legislature that's more reflective of the diverse political views on Prince Edward Island."
"I believe we need to have a legislature that works for people, not parties first," he said.
King said the PC Party has allowed itself to drift too far to the right.
"The PC Party that I grew up around and worked in was a leader on the environment, was a leader in energy and innovation. That's the things I want to bring back."
But Dale said MMP is just "putting a Band-Aid on the problem." He said the real problem is that people have lost trust in the political system, and don't feel as if their voices are being heard.
"I think when people lose trust in the political system then they look for alternatives. And I don't believe the alternative is proportional representation," he said.
"I think the system that we have is perfectly fine. What we really need to address is putting trust back into that political system and the way we do that is by serving others before ourselves."
Driscoll said Islanders are upset with the "cronyism" in politics. He said MMP won't help matters because it will give more influence to "a backroom of people" who will select some of the members, and make them less accountable to voters.
"I think if we stay true to our values as a party we can offer that change that we want," he said.
Arsenault said the problem is not how MLAs are elected, it's what happens after they are elected that needs to be addressed.
"People go into government often as MLAs representing their districts with the best of intentions," he said.
"But then they enter into this world of expectations of secrecy, cabinet confidence where you see things that you may not agree with, you may not even believe are moral, but you have a real quandary — are you going to separate yourself from your party and stand out publicly about it? Most don't."
Stewart-Clark said both systems have strengths and weaknesses, and said she's encouraged to see Islanders becoming informed about the choices.
Regardless of the vote on electoral reform, she said the challenge is in the legislative standing committees.
"Whether we elect with MMP or first-past-the-post, that's where I see the bottleneck occurring, where it's become too partisan and we need to fix those committees and how they function."
Online voting in the leadership race begins Friday, with the leadership convention set for Feb. 9.
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With files from Island Morning