PEI

Referendum bill may not be constitutional, says PR coalition

Restrictions on fundraising outlined in the P.E.I. government's referendum bill may be unconstitutional, says a representative of the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation.

'They may be really against some democratic principles'

Legislation tabled Thursday lays out the rules for the referendum on electoral reform. (CBC)

Restrictions on fundraising outlined in the P.E.I. government's referendum bill may be unconstitutional, says a representative of the P.E.I. Coalition for Proportional Representation.

The legislation was tabled Thursday. PR coalition spokesman Leo Cheverie said his group still needs time to look it over, but he has some major concerns.

"Within our constitution restrictions have to be reasonable and justified, so I think we really have to look at that question," said Cheverie.

"They may be really against some democratic principles and we may even look at the constitutionality."

The new bill lays out the rules for the province's upcoming referendum on electoral reform, which will happen alongside the next provincial election.

'A bogus argument'

Under the legislation, the government will provide $75,000 in taxpayer funding for both the 'Yes' and 'No' campaigns. Beyond that, no groups will be allowed to solicit donations or otherwise raise money to pay for advertising or promotion for one side or the other.

According to the legislation, the measures are intended to establish "a level playing field for those who wish to publicly oppose or support a change to the voting system."

Cheverie does not believe a level playing field is the intent of the legislation.

"We think we had a level playing field in 2016 and we won," said Cheverie, in reference to a plebiscite that saw a proportional representation system win the most votes.

"The stated intention of the legislation is to provide a level playing field, but I think that's a bogus argument. I think it's raising every possible barrier to prevent PR from becoming a reality and making it as hard as possible for campaigners to succeed."

Cheverie wonders what strings are attached to the government funding, and noted no community-based group came out in support of the first-past-the-post system in 2016.

He added his group is "extremely disappointed" it wasn't consulted before the bill was tabled.

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With files from Island Morning