Publication: The Guardian (Prince Edward Island)
Title: The next phase of the electoral reform debate; If a citizens assembly is able to garner a broader base of public support, it might have a better chance of success.
Date: May 6, 2006
By: Editorial Staff
For the article, click here.
Participants in an electoral reform meeting recently agreed on the notion of a citizens assembly to take the electoral reform debate to the next level. It’s a good idea.
If there was a flaw in last fall’s discussion of proportional representation, it was that the particular model on the table was perceived as being imposed on the electorate. A citizens assembly whose main objective would be to get a broader base of public support might have a better chance of succeeding if the matter is ever put to a vote again.
Last fall, Islanders were immersed in an often-emotional debate over how to reform the electoral system so that it would be more reflective of what Islanders want. At issue was the mixed member proportional representation system, a specific model drafted by an electoral reform commission struck by Premier Pat Binns. The system proposed offered voters two ballots — one for the MLA in their riding, and another for the party of their choice. Supporters of the system said it would reduce party imbalance in the legislature and allow for a stronger opposition. Detractors said it would reduce accountability of the legislature and give more power to the parties, not the voters.
A plebiscite last November settled the discussion surrounding that model. Voters soundly rejected it.
Was the exercise a waste of time? Not at all. At the end of the day, all voters benefited from hearing the pros and cons of the status quo and they became more aware of the alternatives. The mixed member proportional system, at least according to the vote recorded, wasn’t the preferred option.
Now we may be ready to move to the next stage. As a result of an electoral reform forum last weekend, participants agreed that a citizens assembly might be able to draft a new system and be better able to garner a broader base of public support. What’s encouraging is that the participants who attended last weekend’s forum included representatives from the camps who opposed each other so vigorously last fall. That suggests quite a spectrum of opinion, and it bodes well for the potential of a citizens assembly, if indeed it is created.
Democracy is not neat and tidy. It can be unruly, cumbersome and time-consuming. But it’s a noble pursuit. As society evolves, so must the institutions that serve it. Legislatures across the land have been criticized for being dominated by the executive branch of government. Any effort to improve representation and accountability ultimately benefits society. If Prince Edward Islanders, possibly through a citizens assembly, are able to produce a model that works for this province, that model could serve as an inspiration for electoral reform across the country.