'Repressive rules' prompt disbanding of P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation

The P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation will cease operations by the end of the month, the group announced Monday morning.

New network established for communication between pro-PR groups

The proposed act would prohibit fundraising for the referendum campaign. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

The P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation will cease operations by the end of the month, the group announced Monday morning.

In a news release, the group said the Electoral Systems Referendum Act, currently being debated in the legislature, prompted the move.

"Our decision to disband responds to the repressive rules proposed in Bill 38, the Electoral Systems Referendum Act," said coalition spokesperson Leo Cheverie.

"It is now clear that within the current political climate we are now viewed in an unnecessarily adversarial and hostile way."

There is a hostile view of the coalition, says Leo Cheverie. (Kevin Yarr/CBC)

The province will hold a referendum in conjunction with the next provincial election on whether to retain the current first-past-the-post system or move to a mixed-member proportional system.

The government says the act will ensure a level playing field by banning fundraising for referendum campaigning by either side, and providing $75,000 from government coffers to both the yes and no campaigns. Beyond approved advertisers, individuals or groups are limited to spending a maximum of $500 on referendum advertising. Under the proposed rules, offences can be punished with fines of $10,000 or more.

A successful 2016 campaign

The coalition, which includes 12 member organizations, came together for the 2016 plebiscite on electoral reform. That plebiscite came out in favour of mixed-member proportional, but the government said voter turnout was too low to make a change.

The coalition says if the legislation passes — its website, social media pages and email list will immediately be shut down to avoid being in violation of the campaign rules. Any money held by the coalition will be held in trust for future use in promoting democratic reform, once it becomes clear how that money can be used.

A space for individual citizens to communicate and coordinate with each other to advance proportional representation.- Anna Keenan

In place of the coalition the P.E.I. Proportional Representation Network is being formed.

"The new network is intended to be a space for individual citizens to communicate and coordinate with each other to advance proportional representation on P.E.I.," said Anna Keenan, who served as coalition campaign director in 2016.

"It won't be a formal decision-making body like the coalition has been."

The coalition believes the best way for the pro-PR campaign to succeed is broad-based, decentralized, citizen network.

Legislation 'designed to impede our work'

The P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities is one of the groups which has been part of the coalition.

"It kind of feels like the legislation was designed to impede our work," said the council's executive director Marcia Carroll. "So we needed to figure out a new way to go forward."

Carroll said she'll continue to support PR personally, and will ask her board to budget up to $500 to pay for advertising, the maximum allowed under government's proposed rules.

"The research shows when we have proportional electoral systems, more people with disabilities run, more people are voted in ... and so then decisions that are made to affect people with disabilities' lives are made by them, for them."

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