Referendum sides ramping up campaigns leading up to P.E.I. election
'People are just becoming more engaged in the discussion and talking about it among themselves'
Voters on Prince Edward Island will have two ballots on April 23, the province's election day — one for the district candidates and the other to settle the referendum question on electoral reform.
The referendum will ask voters "Should Prince Edward Island change its voting system to a mixed member proportional voting system?"
Referendum P.E.I., the organization overseeing the process, said it has seen public interest increase around the debate since the election was called.
'Everything I think we can do'
"They're hearing the discussion between the Yes and the No sides and reading all of these wonderful letters to the editor that have been back and forth," said Gerard Mitchell, P.E.I.'s referendum commissioner.
"And people are just becoming more engaged in the discussion and talking about it among themselves and wanting to learn more."
The referendum question that Islanders will be asked is a Yes or No question. A No vote will be to keep the system the way it is while a Yes vote would be to change it to a mixed member proportional voting system.
For the result to be binding, one side needs to get a majority of the votes in 60 per cent of the 27 individual districts as well as a majority of votes across the Island.
Mitchell said his group has are worked hard to inform Islanders about their choice.
"We've done everything I think we can do." Mitchell said. "We've done 20-some meetings. We've put a website together. We've sent out a mailout. We have brochures. I can't think of anything more we could do."
Two organizations, Vote Yes P.E.I. and No What to Vote, were chosen to become registered referendum advertisers and each received $75,000 for their campaigns.
Enough time to get informed?
John Barrett with the No campaign said he has been pleased with the level of engagement, and that the timing of the election and the length of the campaign have been suitable.
"The referendum period began quite some time ago so we've had lots of time to get messaging out there, to get organized with signage," Barrett said.
"So we don't really see the point of it going any longer. We'll be glad to see it all take place on the 23rd."
It's hard to get the word out when you're trying to compete with parties for the public's attention.— Brenda Oslawsky
Those with the Yes campaign said they had been counting on a May election and were delayed getting signs printed and in the ground.
Brenda Oslawsky with Vote Yes P.E.I. said they just don't have as much time as they'd like to educate voters on the proposed mixed member proportional voting system.
"We find going door to door, still 30 to 40 per cent of people are unaware the referendum is happening," Oslawsky said.
"And it's hard to get the word out when you're trying to compete with parties for the public's attention."
Both sides said they have spent most of the $75,000 they were handed from the province for campaign advertising and expect to spend it all.
The Yes campaign plans to ramp up its efforts in the last two weeks, Oslawsky said, including knocking on as many doors as possible.
Barrett said volunteers with the No campaign won't be knocking on doors, as they worry voters will already be getting enough visits from the candidates.
Still need info?
The referendum commissioner said his office will continue to hold more information sessions on electoral reform before April 23.
"If people become engaged and have a good debate about the subject I will be satisfied," Mitchell said. "We'll keep plodding on right until election day."
All four party leaders on P.E.I. say they will honour the vote in the referendum on changing the electoral system.
More P.E.I. news
With files from Steve Bruce