PR Action Team statement on Referendum Outcome
Prince Edward Island - April 23, 2019
At 49% “Yes”, this is a loss for electoral reform, but a very, very narrow loss: with PEI’s opinion divided nearly in half on this issue, there is clearly a lot of appetite in the community for reform.
A majority - 15 of 27 districts - supported change. This means that neither ‘Yes’ nor ‘No’ reached the 17-district threshold to be considered ‘binding’, as set out in the Electoral Systems Referendum Act.
We aren’t about to let this issue disappear; the work for electoral reform is not over on PEI. Of course, we expect that the incoming legislature will honour this vote, however we will engage with the new government productively, to find a model for change that can be supported by a broad majority of the community.
And hopefully, we can achieve that outcome in time for the next election.
Even the official ‘No’ side repeatedly said that they aren’t opposed to change itself, they are just opposed to ‘this specific change’: the Mixed-Member Proportional model proposed in the Referendum Act.
We hope that the incoming government will set up a process to consult with both advocates and opponents to this change, and find ways to resolve the concerns raised during the campaign, including some elements of MMP which were not clearly defined by the previous government.
We identified three needs that would make MMP comfortable for a majority of islanders:
- Requiring partisan candidate lists to be elected through a democratic process
- Mechanisms to prevent a loss of rural representation
- Establishing minimum thresholds for an individual or party to be elected to the proportional seats.
We heard each of these raised several times throughout the campaign. The lack of detail in Schedule 2 of the Referendum Act was disconcerting for many, and we feel that it is something that we feel the previous government could have easily addressed, had they consulted with stakeholders before rushing the Referendum Act through the house last spring.
The outgoing government handled this file exceedingly poorly, and in a biased manner, and the results tonight reflect this.
Having elected MLAs and political parties defining the rules for electoral systems will always involve some conflict of interest, and this should not be a partisan-political decision.
So, as the next step, rather than a legislative committee, we recommend a depoliticized model of decision-making that has been used to build consensus in many other jurisdictions - a Citizens’ Assembly: a group of citizens who study the issue in depth, and deliver their recommendation to the legislature for adoption.
We believe that with even 1 extra week in the campaign, we could have met both the 50% threshold and the 17 district threshold - the vast majority of people who we spoke to, once they understood the system, were supportive. But it’s clear that we weren’t able reach enough islanders in time for today’s vote.
We hope that the new government takes the full context into account - this was always an uphill battle for the Yes side - from biased legislation written by a government who was clearly opposed to reform, and the unfortunate non-factual approach that was used to scare voters in rural areas away from supporting change, to the exceedingly short writ period. We think it is essential that the new government finds some way to move this issue forward.
It will be most important to consult with communities in the districts that voted ‘no’, and find tweaks and changes that can be made to the proposed MMP model, so that it is truly ‘made in PEI, for PEI’, and acceptable to all.
We know that younger demographics favour proportional representation strongly, so it’s only a matter of time before this change becomes reality for PEI - it's an idea whose time is still coming, and we’ll keep working to help it arrive!
- There were far more ‘Yes' votes in favour of MMP than there were for either of the winning parties in tonight’s election!
- Just under half the voters said that they want to move on from the exact system that they used to place their votes in the simultaneous election.
- It’s clear from looking at the geography of the vote, that it’s the East and Western tips of the island which were most neglected in our campaign, and where we most need to engage in future efforts for change.
- If we were conducting the referendum by a First-Past-the-Post vote, ‘Yes’ would have won, because it won in the majority of districts tonight.
- A summary of results are shown in a spreadsheet here.
On behalf of the PR Action Team: Anna Keenan, Philip Brown, Donald and Jessica MacFadzen-Reid, Lucy Morkunas, Norah Pendergast, Robert Hamon