Sex, drugs, and electoral reform

So much public debate these days is sparked by shock and scandal. The lines between news and entertainment have become ever-more blurred, and it’s almost impossible to get people to pay attention to a topic that isn’t lurid or dramatic – electoral reform for example. Is there a less sexy subject out there than democratic renewal?

That’s one of many challenges faced when trying to engage Islanders in the debate which will end in a plebiscite in November. So in an attempt to capture your attention for three minutes, I am going to approach it from a totally different angle. The provocative title may have drawn many of you in: sex - as in the absence of; drugs as in the powerful narcotic which is debate on the relative merits of DMP and FPTP. OK, I admit it, I tricked you in order to get you to read on.

Let’s instead talk about Island values. I think Islanders have some very strong, deeply cherished ideals which have shaped our Island for many generations. I would list some of them as: Fairness, Neighbourliness, Community, Integrity, and Island pride. I’d like now to see how our electoral options line up against these principles.

Fairness. Islanders like fair play, and we don’t appreciate it when there is obvious injustice. Is it fair when 40% of Islanders elect a majority government that holds 67% of the seats and therefore 100% of the power? Wouldn’t it be infinitely more fair if those 40% of votes received 40% of the seats in the House? I’d like an electoral system that reflects our desire for fairness.

Community. Islanders are inclusive: we don’t leave people out, but our current electoral system creates a Legislature that doesn’t reflect the rich variety of Island life. We are diverse ethnically, socially, and in age, yet our parliament is dominated by pale, stale males. My community is 51% female, yet only 15% of the MLAs in our Legislature are women. I’d like an electoral system that would result in a more diverse parliament that better reflects who we are.

Neighbourliness. One feature of Island life is our desire to help each other. You see this in an infinite variety of ways – fundraisers, socials, going all the way back to helping your neighbor get the crop in. This natural collaborative instinct is not reflected in our politics today. It is combative, hostile and unfriendly – quite the opposite of who we are. I’d prefer an electoral system that promoted cooperation and working together towards shared solutions: I think that would be more the Island way.

Integrity. Islanders are principled people. That we hold fairness, community and neighborliness close to heart speaks to our natural kindness and honesty. Our politics hasn’t always been that way, however, and patronage, cronyism and corruption have long, storied histories here on PEI. For over a century and a half, two parties have shared power almost equally, holding 100% of the power 50% of the time. This sort of pattern has led to all the problems listed above. I’d prefer an electoral system that would minimize the opportunities for the abuse of power, not facilitate it.

Island Pride. We live in a distinct place and Islanders are fiercely proud of who we are and what we do. I’d like to see an electoral system that is properly suited to our unique needs and values here on PEI: a system we can be proud of.

So ….. my ideal electoral system would echo the values of fairness, community, neighbourliness, integrity and Island Pride. And guess what? There is an electoral system which does exactly that – it’s called Proportional Representation. Forget about the head-squeezing math exercise of figuring out how the minutiae of each of the 5 systems being presented in this plebiscite would work; instead focus on a system that will reflect who we are. I shouldn’t pretend that Proportional Representation will usher in an era of perfect governance and blissful leadership: it won’t. But it would, in my mind, be an enormous step in the right direction.

We can do this. We can be visionary leaders for our country, which is looking to our little Island for direction on electoral reform. Let’s show the rest of Canada that we are ready for a modern electoral system that echoes our Island and Canadian values.