PEI

Much-amended P.E.I. referendum legislation passes

P.E.I.'s controversial Electoral System Referendum Act was voted on and passed in the legislature Tuesday afternoon, day 39 of the legislative sitting.

Debate on bill took place over nine separate days in legislature

The referendum legislation lays out the rules for a pending vote by Islanders on whether they'd like to retain the current first-past-the-post voting system or move to a mixed member proportional system. (CBC)

P.E.I.'s controversial Electoral System Referendum Act was voted on and passed in the legislature Tuesday afternoon, day 39 of the legislative sitting.

The bill is meant to set the stage for holding a binding referendum on electoral reform in conjunction with the next provincial election. 

Legislators voted 13 to 10 to pass the act, which had been amended several times. Seven PC MLAs voted against the act, as did both Green Party members and independent MLA Bush Dumville. 

"Should have done that three weeks ago," said Paula Biggar, P.E.I.'s minister of transportation, infrastructure and energy.  

There was more wrangling over amendments in the legislature Tuesday. MLAs went through the new act line by line, then section by section. 

An amendment was proposed to the plan for an eight-month referendum period. The Greens suggested five months, as British Columbia uses, while the PCs argued for 30 days. However, that change was defeated. 

The bill was controversial because it drastically limited spending on referendum advertising — critics believed this would lead to electoral reforms being defeated. As it now stands, the act would allow individuals to spend up to $1,000, as well as allow groups of individuals to band together to spend up to $10,000 collectively, and remove prohibitions preventing some groups from accepting donations.

Attorney General Jordan Brown suggested in debate that publishers might be limited in how they covered the referendum — wording in the act was tweaked to remove wording that stated editorials, columns, interviews and news stories would be considered referendum advertising unless they were produced without payment.

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With files from Kerry Campbell

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