P.E.I. waits for government response to electoral reform plebiscite

Low voter turnout in a proportional representation victory in P.E.I.'s electoral reform plebiscite has left it unclear how the government will proceed.

“We’ve given birth to a democratic renaissance in Canada,” says P.E.I. Green leader

Members of the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation celebrate the news that Islanders selected the mixed-member proportional electoral model in a provincial plebiscite. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

Prince Edward Islanders have voted to change their electoral system.

In a non-binding plebiscite they were asked to rank their choices from among five electoral models, including two different forms of proportional representation.

A model called mixed-member proportional carried the day with 52 per cent of the votes over 43 per cent from the status quo, first past the post.

However, voter turnout for the plebiscite was only 36 per cent, and government gave no indication ahead of time what it would do with the results, or what threshold of support or voter turnout would be needed to change the system.

That didn't stop Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker from celebrating upon hearing the results.

The leader of the Green Party on P.E.I. Peter Bevan-Baker says voters in the province have "given birth to a democratic renaissance in Canada." (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

"Prince Edward Island, this little place, was the location where the discussion that led to the birth of our nation occurred," he said.

"And here we are, 150 years later, and P.E.I. is again the place where we have moved the country forward. We've given birth to a democratic renaissance in Canada."

Mixed-member proportional

Mixed-member proportional is the electoral system used in Germany and New Zealand. It assigns seats based on the percentage of the popular vote each party receives. P.E.I.'s version of the system would maintain 18 MLAs elected to individual districts via first past the post, with another nine seats assigned on a proportional basis.

Bevan-Baker is the only member of the Green Party ever elected to the P.E.I. Legislature, which has also only ever had one NDP representative.

Under a mixed member proportional voting system, the votes cast in the 2015 provincial election would have led to two more Green MLAs, two more Conservative MLAs, three NDP MLAs, and seven fewer Liberal MLAs being elected. (CBC)

The fact that the Greens and NDP won 22 per cent of the popular vote in last year's provincial election, with only one seat between them, was one of the factors which led the province once again considering electoral reform.

In a 2005 plebiscite, 64 per cent of Islanders voted against changing their electoral system.

Liberal caucus to discuss

Premier Wade MacLauchlan, who's already said he's "not a believer in proportional representation," issued a statement Monday night referencing the low turnout in a vote that gave Islanders the option of voting online or over the telephone as well as in person.

"Notwithstanding historic innovations in the methods and time-frame to cast a ballot, offering multiple options to vote online, by telephone and in-person over a 10-day period, Island voters responded at a rate substantially below our well-established voting track record," the statement read.

MacLauchlan said his caucus would meet Tuesday to discuss the plebiscite results, and that he'll have more to say after that meeting.

Jamie Fox, interim leader of the Progressive Conservatives, said it is now time to study the results and consider how to proceed.

"We look forward to hearing what the premier's plans are going forward and debating what comes next when the legislature resumes later this month," said Fox in a message to CBC News.

Decision took four rounds of counting

The plebiscite was conducted using a preferential ballot, where voters rank their options in order of preference. 

Under a preferential ballot, multiple rounds of counting are possible, with the option with the fewest votes eliminated after each round. Those ballots are then redistributed according to the voter's second or third choices, until one option has majority support.

Arriving at a winner in P.E.I.'s plebiscite required four rounds of counting. First past the post led after each of the first three rounds without reaching majority support. On the first ballot the two proportional options shared a combined 51 per cent support.


Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.


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