Options for electoral reform plebiscite explored at CBC P.E.I. public forum

Islanders face five options in the polls starting this weekend — asking if they want electoral reform, and what kind of system they'd like to see.

Public and politicians weigh in on five options for electoral reform

Lynne Lund (from left), Richard Brown, Dr. Herb Dickieson, Mark Greenan and Paula Biggar each advocated for a different option in the upcoming provincial plebiscite. (Rob LeClair/CBC)

Islanders face five options in the polls starting this weekend — asking if they want electoral reform, and what kind of system they'd like to see.

CBC P.E.I. explored those five options at a forum on electoral reform Thursday night, with a healthy debate about what is best for the province.

About 300 people attended the forum, with more watching online and joining in on Facebook.

"I have quite a bit to say," said Pat Mella, former PC MLA who stood up in the audience. "There's been a couple of myths going around that I fundamentally disagree with."

Mella expressed concerns over proportional representation.

"It punishes the people who voted directly. That's what proportional representation does," she said, to boos from some people in the audience. "We got the vote. We earned it. We represent everybody."

Former Conservative MLA Pat Mella says proportional representation 'punishes the people who voted directly.' (Rob LeClair/CBC)

Lynne Lund, the deputy leader of the Green Party of P.E.I., supports proportional representation and agreed that everyone's vote should count equally. She said a proportional representation doesn't take away from that.

Concerns over lopsided legislatures

The issues of lopsided legislatures and minority governments were raised as both reasons for and against different systems.

Elections P.E.I. has said the two proportional representation models would likely lead to minority or coalition governments, while the other three systems are more likely to bring about governments where the ruling party has a majority.

"It's important that you have a government that can make decisions when there are difficult times ahead," said Richard Brown, the Liberal MLA for Charlottetown - Victoria Park, who supports first past the post. "Sometimes tough decisions have to be made, and we can't be playing politics with tough decisions."

"It is certainly possible that Prince Edward Island could continue to have majority governments under mixed member proportional," said Mark Greenan, the campaign manager for the PEI Coalition for Proportional Representation. "They just have to have the majority of seats."

"With a proportional government, it's not a matter that everyone's going to find consensus, it's going to be a matter that all Islanders' views will be on the table," said Lund, who said that's how the best ideas come forward.

"I think we have to open things up a little bit. I think there's too many people being shut out," said former NDP MLA Herb Dickieson, who supports the first past the post plus leaders option.

"I want my premier and my leaders of the opposition to represent the whole Island."

Read more about the plebiscite

Read more about the five options