PEI

Unanswered questions led to No votes in PR referendum, says commissioner

Debate in the legislature leading up to the referendum on electoral reform was too much about the referendum rules and not enough about the proposed mixed-member proportional system, P.E.I.’s referendum commissioner says in a report.

'Being told that these issues could be addressed later did not satisfy their concern'

Gerard Mitchell, P.E.I.'s referendum commissioner, says many rural voters believed MMP would diminish their representation. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Debate in the legislature before the referendum on electoral reform was too much about the referendum rules and not enough about the proposed mixed-member proportional system, P.E.I.'s referendum commissioner says in a new report.

In the referendum, part of the provincial election on April 23, Islanders voted 51.74 per cent against moving to the MMP system, in favour of sticking with first-past-the-post.

But Referendum Commissioner Gerard Mitchell said the results may have been different if the description of MMP in the Electoral System Referendum Act had:

  • Mandated democratic selection procedures for party list candidates.
  • Included a threshold for eligibility for list seats.
  • Clarified whether there could be dual candidacy.
  • Explained how list seat vacancies occurring between general elections would be filled.

"The failure … to address these four matters was problematic to many members of the public," Mitchell said in the report.

"Being told that these issues could be addressed later did not satisfy their concern."

Concerns from rural areas

Mitchell said many voters in rural areas voted no to MMP because they believed their representation would be diminished. Under the proposed system, districts would be larger and fewer, while province-wide party list seats would most likely be won by urban candidates, he said.

"MMP might have received more support from rural voters if the list seats were regional rather than province wide," he said in the report.

The government would have been bound to make the change to MMP only if a majority across the province voted yes and a majority of voters in at least 60 per cent — or 17 — of the province's 27 districts also voted yes. 

'Big votes for the No side' 

The Yes side ended up getting 48.26 per cent of the 81,888 votes cast and a majority in 14 districts.

"It was very, very close. But for some big votes for the No side in the rural ends of the province, we might be looking at an MMP system for Prince Edward Island," he said in an interview Tuesday on CBC Radio's Mainstreet P.E.I.

The commissioner also reviewed the finances of the registered referendum advertisers, and determined that both groups — one for the Yes side and one for the No — did not spend beyond their $75,000 allotment.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Kerry Campbell

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