PEI

Why this political science professor says a consensus government wouldn't fly on P.E.I.

UPEI political science professor Don Desserud says while PC Leader James Aylward's idea for a consensus government is 'fascinating,' it's unlikely to fly on P.E.I.

'I don't believe that, frankly, we can do this here on Prince Edward Island'

Don Desserud says because of P.E.I.'s firm hold on party politics that the Island wouldn't budge on a newer, non-partisan system. (CBC)

UPEI political science professor Don Desserud says although the P.E.I. PC leader's idea for a consensus government is "fascinating," it's unlikely to fly on P.E.I.

James Aylward told CBC News: Compass on Friday that he believes a consensus government would be more effective than the current system.

"It's fascinating and very intriguing," Desserud told Island Morning.

That's why people like it, because you get, in theory anyway, more responsibility on the government side.— Don Desserud

"Here we have a leader of a party who's identifying a problem that I think most members of the voting population also agree with, is that: over partisanship is undermining our faith in democracy."

The consensus system is used in Nunavut where MLAs run as an independents, rather than represent parties, and are elected by voters as usual.

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However, after the election, the winning candidates get together and choose a premier and a cabinet by consensus.

"Cabinet is always in a minority situation, so, as a consequence, instead of having a cabinet that can run roughshod over your legislative assembly … you've got a cabinet now that always has to seek consensus," he said.

"That's why people like it, because you get, in theory anyway, more responsibility on the government side and you have more power from the MLAs because they actually have a say."

Working together

One of biggest problems with the consensus system, he argued, is that MLAs would be more inclined to search for favours for their individual ridings and that the collaborative nature would focus less on politicians holding government accountable.

"You basically get all the MLAs in a compromised position ... they've all basically come together and work as if they're all in one party as opposed to trying to do what their job is which is to scrutinise government and hold it accountable."

Another issue would be that fewer people will want to run for office, he said, because there would no longer be the backing of a large political party behind them.

Though Desserud said political parties "cause a lot of problems," he acknowledged that they do offer a strong backing for those wanting to run.

Opposition and PC Leader James Aylward says as the province looks at electoral reform, it should broaden the conversation and consider all options including a consensus government. (CBC News: Compass)

"One of the advantages of political parties is that they bring a team together. And so if you want to be an MLA and run for a political party you've got that whole party apparatus behind you," he said.

"It's a scary idea to put yourself forward, your name on a ballot, and put yourself out there and have people judge you in an election. It's a lot easier if you've got a supportive team."

A partisan culture

In addition, Desserud said because of P.E.I.'s firm hold on party politics that the Island wouldn't budge on a newer, non-partisan system.

He's identifying a problem, I don't know that this is the solution.— Don Desserud

"I don't believe that frankly we can do this here on Prince Edward Island. We simply have a political culture that's partisan that's been with us for 200 and some years and that's not going to go away anytime soon."

But he said Aylward may have gained some points from the public by floating the idea.

"It's a refreshing idea, it's new, it's not the same old same old ... He's demonstrated that he has a lot of respect for his colleagues … he values the contributions of all MLAs regardless of their party stripe," he said.

"He's identifying a problem, I don't know that this is the solution."

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With files from Island Morning

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